In an effort to reduce the stigma associated with being the parent with less parent-child contact, Florida has replaced the terms "custody" and "visitation" with "time-sharing." It is now a priority of the state legislature to encourage parties to work together to create a parenting plan that both fits each parent's schedule and supports the best interests of the child. Once that plan is in place, the court provides specific remedies to ensure that both parties honor the arrangement.
Overview of Parenting Plans
Florida's changes in parenting terminology are intended to avoid any preferential treatment associated with being the custodial parent, reduce the stigma of being the noncustodial parent, and encourage parties to draft parenting plans that provide both parents with parent-child contact and support the best interests of the child. To that end, every parenting plan should focus on three main issues: parenting responsibility, time-sharing, and support. Parenting responsibility refers to the ability to make major decisions regarding a child's life, including medical care, education and religious affiliation. Time-sharing is the amount of time the child stays overnight with each parent, and support refers to payments to the other parent to provide for child-rearing costs.
Shared parenting plans are encouraged in Florida. The law also prefers that divorce parties work together to create a parenting plan that supports the best interests of the child. If parents cannot agree, or the plan is found not to support the welfare of the child, the court will issue its own time-sharing arrangement. This is based on several factors, including the ability of each parent to care for the child, the needs of the child, and proximity to school and community. Because parenting arrangements rarely produce an even 50/50 split, the parent with greater parenting time is referred to as the primary residential parent and the other is considered the secondary residential parent.
It is important to understand that the individual designated as the primary residential parent must honor the time-sharing agreement and allow the secondary residential parent access to his child. This is true even if the secondary residential parent is behind on child-support payments. At the same time, the secondary residential parent may not stop paying child support even if the primary residential parent is not honoring the time-sharing agreement. This is because the purpose of both time-sharing and support is for the benefit of the child, whether or not those actions are convenient for the parents.
The secondary residential parent does have some recourse if the primary residential parent fails to honor a time-sharing agreement. A court can order all missed time to be made up in accordance with the non-offending parent's schedule, so long as it suits the best interests of the child. Additional remedies include requiring the offending parent to pay court costs and attorney fees, attend a parenting class, and pay all travel costs for drop-offs and pickups. In cases of continued noncompliance, the court has the power to find the offending parent in contempt and modify the parenting plan.