Modifying a Final Judgment of Paternity or Dissolution of Marriage in Florida is extremely difficult; particularly with regard to modifying time-sharing.
There is a significant legal burden to overcome when modifying a Final Judgment
While it is possible to modify time-sharing plans (read: custody), the person seeking the modification has a huge legal burden to sustain in order to be successful. This is a direct quote from the relevant portion of Chapter 61, Florida Statutes. "A determination of parental responsibility, a parenting plan, or a time-sharing schedule may not be modified without a showing of a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances and a determination that the modification is in the best interests of the child." Florida common law (or case law) also holds that a person seeking a modification carries an "extraordinary burden" in proving this.
It's much better to have your time-sharing plan established correctly the first time and with assistance of counsel.
So to put it bluntly, your best opportunity to address time-sharing issues (and your relationship with your minor children) is in the initial divorce and/or paternity case. At least at that stage, the playing field is level in that the legal standard the court must consider is the "best interests of the minor children."
Retaining experienced family law counsel can be expensive.
I understand that it is expensive. No one saves up for a divorce. We save for houses, college tuition, retirement, etc. We spend our money on things that we think are worth "investing" in. I cannot imagine that there is something more worthy of investment than your relationship with your children.
Going to trial is a significant gamble; attending without counsel increases the chances that you will fail.
Also, you must consider this: if your case goes to trial, a judge will consider the evidence and then enter an order. If you are lucky, the judge might look at the file before the trial. This is not a guarantee; our courts are underfunded and the docket is packed. So the judge, who will only know you from the time that you spend in trial, will determine your future in many regards. An experienced family law attorney will make the most effective presentation to the court and increase your chances at trial.
Don't let money get in the way of arguably the most important issue that you will ever face.
In conclusion, if you do not retain an attorney for your family law matter, you are taking an enormous risk. Don't let "money" be the reason why you are not represented. Start consulting with attorneys and see what your options are. I am certainly not asking you to retain or even call me. But do call someone. There are many experienced, efficient and ethical attorneys in Florida. I know that some people are reluctant to retain an attorney because they don't think that they can afford it. The real question is: can you afford the consequences of not having an attorney?
AVVO attorneys are here to help.
Many attorneys are able to identify the relevant issues in a family law matter based on a phone call. Many offer free telephonic consultations. Take advantage of these resources.
61.13(a)-(t), Fla. Stat. (2014). (Describes the legal burden and factors that court must consider in modification cases
(3) For purposes of establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, which governs each parent's relationship with his or her minor child and the relationship between each parent with regard to his or her minor child, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration. A determination of parental responsibility, a parenting plan, or a time-sharing schedule may not be modified without a showing of a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances and a determination that the modification is in the best interests of the child. Determination of the best interests of the child shall be made by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including, but not limited to: (a) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required. (b) The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties. (c) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent. (d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity. (e) The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child. (f) The moral fitness of the parents. (g) The mental and physical health of the parents. (h) The home, school, and community record of the child. (i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference. (j) The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child's friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things. (k) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime. (l) The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child. (m) Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child. (n) Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect. (o) The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties. (p) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child's school and extracurricular activities. (q) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse. (r) The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child. (s) The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child's developmental needs. (t) Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.
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