Modifying Parenting Plans in Florida

May 25, 2015

A parenting plan is an essential tool for co-parenting. The creation of a parenting plan is required in all cases where parents have time-sharing with minor children. The plan outlines each parent’s responsibilities to the child and specifies a time-sharing schedule. Courts approve parenting plans based on the child’s best interests, but sometimes it may be appropriate to change the terms of a parenting plan.

A parenting plan is a court order, so modification requires the court’s approval. To modify a parenting plan or time-sharing schedule in Florida, there must be a “substantial, material, and unanticipated change of circumstances” since the custody determination was made. The parent seeking the change must show that:

  • The circumstances have substantially changed.
  • It is in the child’s best interest to have the parenting plan modified.

Changed Circumstances

Determining what constitutes a change in circumstances differs in each case, and the statute does not list circumstances that qualify as a substantial change. Instead, courts look at the individual facts of each case to decide whether a modification is warranted. Additionally, the child’s input may also be taken into consideration if appropriate. Past case law can give examples of circumstances that have justified a change, which have included:

  • Evidence of one parent causing parental alienation.
  • One parent’s failure to comply with the parenting plan.
  • One parent unilaterally changing the child’s school.
  • A parent interfering with the other parent’s visitation.
  • Not allowing the child to call the other parent.
  • Refusing to return the child after time sharing period.
  • Willfully raising false allegations of abuse against the other parent, causing trauma to the child.
  • Making obscene and derogatory comments about the other parent.
  • Serious concerns regarding the moral fitness of one parent.
  • Misleading the court in an effort to gain custody of the child.
  • Causing trouble in front of the children when the children have time-sharing with the other parent.
  • Making co-parenting as difficult as possible.

An acrimonious relationship and lack of communication between the parents, without further changed circumstances, is insufficient to warrant a modification of a parenting plan.

Procedure

If possible, parents should come to an agreement about changes to a parenting plan. They then need to have their modification approved by a judge before it becomes legally effective. The judge has the right to modify the proposed changes, even if both parents agree on the modification, if the changes do not meet the legal standards.

The judge may request a parenting plan recommendation or may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s interest in the matter. This involves a neutral third party who can observe the situation and make a recommendation based on what is best for the child. The court may also require the parents to take a parenting course before the final judgment.

It is important to ensure that a parenting plan is the best fit possible for you and your child, and that it facilitates parent-child relationships and serves the child’s best interests. If you believe that your parenting plan needs to be modified, please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.