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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Parenting Plan Basics

In divorces involving minor children and in paternity actions where the minor children’s parents never married, parenting plans are used to detail the rights of each parent regarding their minor children by establishing co-parenting rules for the parents.  A Florida parenting plan instructs the parents on issues of parental responsibility (decision making), time-sharing (formerly known as “custody”) and child support.

Parental Responsibility.  Parental responsibility refers to decision making.  The parenting plan will specify which parent will make major decisions regarding the child.  These decisions include “education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being.”  Parental responsibility is typically shared by both parents however; there are circumstances in which the best interest of the child is best served by having one parent act as the sole decisions maker. 

Time-Sharing.  Time-sharing, formerly known as “custody”, establishes where and with whom the minor children will spend their time.  A time-sharing schedule is created which reflects the children’s regular time-sharing schedule with each parent and includes detailed provisions for holiday and vacation time-sharing with each parent.

Child Support.  Child support is computed by a strict calculation and the computed amount is normally asserted in the parenting plan with a statement as to how the support will be paid.  The parenting plan also provides provisions for dividing the costs of health and dental insurance coverage for the minor children as well as for noncovered health care expenses.

The intent is for parents to collaborate and agree on the terms of their parenting plan since they are typically in the best position to determine the needs of their children.  However, if the parents cannot agree on terms, the court will establish a parenting plan that it believes is in the minor child’s best interest.

It is crucial to understand that a parenting plan is a legally enforceable contract between the parents and once it is adopted by the Court the parenting plan becomes a binding order of that court.  Furthermore, the parenting plan can only be modified upon a showing that there has been a substantial, material and unanticipated change in circumstances and that modifying the parenting plan is in the best interest of the child.  Therefore, as with any other legal document, it is in your best interest to review your parenting plan with an attorney before you sign it.