Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
Jacksonville Florida parents who go through a divorce can write a parenting plan to decide how they will divide their children’s time after a divorce. The plan provides a roadmap for the child’s future, and is the most important document in a Florida divorce involving children. Deciding how to best divide visitation can be challenging for parents, especially when dealing with all other aspects of the divorce. However, keeping children in the forefront of determining what is in their best interest can ultimately lead to right results for everyone. In addition, if there are problems with establishing the parenting plan, a parenting coordinator that is a neutral third party can be helpful to establishing communication between parents. While the school year may be an easy visitation schedule, often summers make for more interesting issues.
Summer time-sharing can be a challenge for parents because their normal time-sharing is often changed during the summer months. Often, the visitation schedule will allow for a parent to have one-half of the summer or for most of the summer, depending on the distance between the parents. When one parent has the children for six (6) consecutive weeks, the other parent is supposed to get the time-sharing normally exercised by the other. For example if Mary has the children the majority of the time and Dan has the kids every-other-weekend, then during the summer Mary would have alternating weekends and Dan would have majority time. Again, this is dependent on the parenting plan. A parenting plan approved by the court must at a minimum: describe how parents will share the child, the time-sharing schedule for holidays, school-related matters, other actives, and the methods and technologies that the parents will use to communicate with the child.
When dealing with summer time-sharing, parents often need to make plans for the children while parents go to work. Finding a camp or other activity for the child falls on the parent exercising his or her summer time-sharing. For example, if Dan works, then he may decide to put the child or children into camp during the weeks that he has them. The camp cannot interfere with Mary’s time-sharing, unless Mary agrees with the situation. So, if the kids want to go to an overnight, away camp that lasts a couple of weeks, then Mary and Dan may agree for them to do so without worrying about the normal time-sharing plan. However, Dan could not make the decision and infringe on Mary’s time-sharing without first speaking with her.
In most Florida parenting plans, the parents are entitled to two uninterrupted weeks of vacation time each year. The idea is that a parent should be able to travel with the child without having to worry about the time-sharing plan because the other parent is entitled to the same time each year. So, if Mary wants to take the kids to Montana for two weeks during her summer time-sharing, then she has to let Dan know, but she does not have to allow for make-up time for Dan’s missed weekend with the kids. The same goes for Dan during his time-sharing. If Dan cannot take the time off during the summer, but can during a different time when school is out, the same rule applies. Parents often struggle with this because they feel the other parent is keeping them from seeing the kids. However, since it goes both ways, both parents should try to exercise their vacation time with the kids during the year.
Part of having a successful time-sharing plan and divorce is to be able to communicate changes to the schedule. The time-sharing plan lays the foundation for the visitation schedule, but if the parents agree to changes along the way, then that is fine. I typically tell people to make certain things are in writing so neither parent can claim the other is solely making the decisions. This is helpful when an argument exists later down the road regarding things that are unrelated to time-sharing. Unfortunately, when disagreements occur, often everything is rehashed so having it in writing can be helpful to both parties.