Written by attorney Michael Gerard Trerotola

Parental Responsibility and Time-Sharing in Florida

Recognizing that parental conflict destroys children, the State of Florida enacted the Shared Parental Responsibility Act in 2008, which established a requirement for the drafting of a document called a “Parenting Plan" in every divorce where minor dependent children are involved. Florida law defines a “Parenting Plan" as being “a document created to govern the relationship between the parents relating to decisions that must be made regarding the minor child and must contain a time-sharing schedule for the parents and child. The issues concerning the minor child may include, but are not limited to, the child’s education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being. In creating the plan, all circumstances between the parents, including their historic relationship, domestic violence, and other factors must be taken into consideration."

The parenting plan must be developed and agreed to by the parents and approved by the court; or, if the parents cannot agree on a plan, or they agree on a plan that is not approved by the court (usually because it is not in the best interest of the child), the court will then author the parenting plan itself. For obvious reasons, the better course is for the parents to agree on terms that are in the best interest of the child and that will be acceptable to the court. Allowing a third party to decide and define the specifics of your relationship with your children cannot be considered a favored option. This is why being represented by a marital and family law attorney can be a great advantage in negotiating the foundation of what will be the parameters for your familial relationships as you all move on with your lives following the divorce.

Parental Responsibility consists of two parts, (1) “Legal Shared Parental Responsibility," which involves the decisions to be made concerning your child’s life, such as where they will go to school, what health care will be provided and by whom, what religious instruction will be part of their education if at all, what sports the child will participate in; basically, all substantive decisions relating to matters concerning the child’s physical, social, and emotional well-being; and (2) “Physical Shared Parental Responsibility," the time-sharing schedule for the parents and minor child(ren), defining where the child(ren) will live, with whom and when. A Parenting Plan will address both parts of what is collectively considered “Parental Responsibility."

Legal Shared Parental Responsibility Options: Within the category of Legal Shared Parental Responsibility or Legal Shared Parenting, three different options are available to define each respective parent’s authority in this regard.

First, there is what is termed “Full Shared Parental Responsibility," which means that both parents will confer and cooperate with each other prior to making any substantive decisions involving their minor child. Essentially, decisions are made jointly. This works best when both parents are mature and can communicate without continued fighting, and where they have accepted the new chapter in their life and can objectively deal with their former spouse in making decisions that are in the best interest of their child.

The second option is termed “Ultimate Responsibility," which means both parents are still required to attempt to confer and cooperate with each other in making decisions regarding their child, but to avoid a need to go to court to settle disagreements when consensus is impossible, one parent has been designated as having the final or ultimate word on what will be decided concerning the child if agreement between the two cannot be reached.

The third option is termed “Sole Parental Responsibility," which means one parent has been designated to make all the decisions concerning their child without having to confer and cooperate with the other party prior to making them. Additionally, depending on what the court decides, this parent may or may not have to inform the other parent of what decisions are made concerning the child, a determination that will be included in the Parenting Plan.

Physical Shared Parental Responsibility (Time-Sharing): The purpose of a time-sharing schedule is to define in terms that are in the best interest of the child, where, when, and with whom the child will live. There is no presumption for or against either parent or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or drafting a parenting plan. What predominately controls, however, is a determination of what is in the best interest of the child, and this determination will be made by evaluating all the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the minor child and the circumstances of the family. Many of the factors to be considered are delineated within the Florida statute addressing the creation of a time-sharing schedule, which can be discussed in greater detail when you consult with a marital and family law attorney regarding representation. (See §61.13(3)(a-t), Fla. Stat. 2012.)

What if the other parent poses a danger to the child?

In some cases, clients are concerned about time-sharing arrangements because they fear that the other parent is unfit due to his or her inability to provide a safe environment for their child. These issues often arise where issues of domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect are involved. It is important to understand that time-sharing is a preferred arrangement only in situations where both parents are fit and able to care for their child(ren). It was created to ensure that fit parents are given an equal opportunity to be involved in the life of their child(ren). If, however, you are in a situation where you believe the other parent has demonstrated that they are unfit and are potentially a danger to the child(ren), the court can rule that the child(ren) will not be subjected to any time-sharing with the other party when doing so would be detrimental to the child(ren). If you have concerns as to whether the other parent is able to provide a safe environment for your child(ren), it is critical that you discuss this serious concern with your attorney.

Contact Info

If you are involved in a divorce involving minor children, and you would like to discuss what time-sharing and parental responsibility options are available to you, you are invited to schedule an initial consultation with The Trerotola Firm, P.A., a Marital and Family Law Firm representing clients in Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and all of Duval, St. Johns, and Clay counties.

The Trerotola Firm, P.A.

4651 Salisbury Road Suite 494 Jacksonville, Florida 32256 Office: (904) 253-7715 [email protected]

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