Divorce complicates life. It forces people to restart and readjust to a new family dynamic. As the former partners begin their separate lives, big changes can occur. Life could pull them apart geographically. When people who share custody of their children find themselves far from one another, they must adjust their time with the kids accordingly.
Each state has its own definition of what qualifies as long-distance custody. In Florida, parents are considered sharing long-distance custody when they are 50 miles apart or more. It does not matter if the distance is within the state or if one parent is out-of-state.
To manage long-distance child custody, Floridians must use the Long-Distance Parenting Plan.
The Long-Distance Parenting Plan
Floridians sharing long-distance custody must negotiate according to the Long-Distance Parenting Plan. If they are already distant when the divorce is finalized, the plan will be used as part of the divorce. Later, if a parent moves 50 miles away or more, courts must be notified. Parents will then use the plan to manage the new distance between them.
Florida’s Long-Distance Parenting Plan is incredibly detailed. It covers virtually every possible scenario that could arise when parents are far apart.
First off, the plan grants decision-making powers to parents. It gives parents three options for making decisions:
- Shared Parental Responsibility
- This gives parents a joint, equal say on a matter. Each parent has full authority to make a decision.
- Shared Parental Responsibility with Decision Making Authority
- This gives parents an equal say on an issue, but when they can’t agree, one parent has final authority to make a decision.
- Sole Parental Responsibility
- This gives only one parent decision-making authority on a specific matter.
One of the great things about this parenting plan is that authority can be separated by circumstance. For example, say one of the parents is a doctor. She could be given sole authority on any non-emergency, health-related issues. The other parent is a teacher, so he is given shared responsibility with final authority on educational concerns. Authority can be mixed and matched like this throughout the plan. Education and health are the only two standard categories in the plan. Anyone who uses the plan must decide who has authority on these two issues. There are also blank areas that can be filled in for other matters that require a final say.
The plan goes on to determine who is responsible for extracurricular activities. It details who can register the children for the activity. Parents may have joint or sole authority in this area. It breaks activities down to their costs, determining who will pay what percent. It even details who is responsible for transportation to and from events.
Scheduling and Holidays
After detailing information about school schedules, the plan goes into granular detail about scheduling time with the kids. It includes a wide variety of options, such as visitation on weekends or weekdays. Parents can make the plan as broad or specific as they wish, allowing for alternating visitation schedules, regular schedules, etc.
The plan goes on for which parent will have the children on specific holidays. Again, it is a malleable plan. One parent can always have the kids on a certain holiday, or parents can alternate by year. There is even an option to keep a rigid, unyielding schedule, regardless of any holidays that come and go. The plan also details how the kids will be transported from one residence to another, who will pay for said transportation, etc.
The plan also takes communication into account. It details who will be able to speak to the kids, when, and how often. You can even plan how the communication will occur, via phone, video chat, etc.
The plan has built-in penalties. A parent who forgets to communicate at their scheduled time can suffer consequences. There are punitive measures for parents who are late for pick-ups or drop-offs. Florida takes this plan seriously, and it expects parents to follow it to the letter.
How to Work on the Plan
If possible, the best-case scenario for everyone is that parents work on the plan together. Working toward mutual benefit, parents can create a plan that is in everyone’s best interests. If the relationship is contentious, you can consider hiring a mediator to help you work on the plan. Mediators are legal professionals who act as impartial, third parties. They listen to everyone’s concerns; keep everyone on task; keep communication open; and help parents see one another’s needs. Once you and your former spouse have devised your plan, you can submit it to the court, where they will clear and officialize it.
You want to avoid having the courts make this plan for you. Judges operate on their beliefs about your child’s best interests. They can, for whatever reason, think a parent is unfit. Based on those opinions, they can reduce that parent’s power. They could, for example, grant complete decision-making to just one parent, leaving the other with no authority.
If you need help with a Long-Distance Parenting Plan, contact us today. We may be able to help you work through it, allowing you to keep your rights. Reach out online, or call (407) 315-2006.