Factors in Determining a Parenting Plan

In many family law cases, deciding upon a parenting plan for the children is the most difficult part of negotiation or trial. When emotions are running high, it is not uncommon for one parent to allege that the other doesn’t know anything about the children, isn’t involved, shouldn’t be responsible for them.

Hopefully, both parties can speak with their lawyers, be counseled on civility and on reasonable expectations, and come to an agreement. Of course, that’s not always possible. If the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan and time sharing schedule, then the judge overseeing the case will do it for them.

Florida family law cases, just like any other cases in court, are governed by a set of statutes or laws. Sort of like this, but in Tallahassee instead of Washington, D.C.:

There is a whole section of Florida law that tells judges what factors to consider when deciding on a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule. All factors and decisions should be based on the best interest of the child. There is a presumption that both parents having time-sharing with the child is in that child’s best interest.

This post will focus on some of the factors that show a parent’s knowledge of their child and involvement in their child’s life. These factors are:

  • The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.
  • The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things.
  • The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.

So how does a parent show that they do, in fact, know their child? We know that asking kids “how was school today?” rarely gets more than a “fine” or maybe “good” in response. If that’s it, what are you learning about your child? What kind of relationship are you developing with them? Keep in mind that these tips are not just about scoring points in a court case, but are about growing a true relationship between you and your child.

If your children in school or day care, make sure you know the basics.  Make sure you are asking the school for a copy of the school calendar, of your child’s schedule, and of any progress reports and report cards. Some schools allow you to get online notification of events or progress. The School District of Indian River County allows parents to sign up for their “e-Sembler” system. If a system exists for your child’s school make sure you are signed up for it.

Some samples of things you should know: Who are their teachers? Teacher aides? Principal? Guidance counselor? Do they go to PE, computer class, French? Are there field trips coming up? Does the class have a wish list? Is there something you can do for the class? Where is your child excelling or struggling?

Knowing these things makes it easier to talk to your child about school. If you know that art is on Tuesday, then Tuesday afternoon you can ask what they did in art. What is their new project? What famous artists are they learning about? Do they like working with pastels better than acrylic? Why? Asking children specific, open ended questions tends to produce more substantive answers.

Then you can build on the knowledge you’ve gained. Continuing with the art example, ask if there is an open house where you can see your child’s work. Maybe you work in a bank or a library, or know someone that does. Can you arrange to have the class’s work displayed? Is there a local museum that you and your child can visit? Here in Vero, the Vero Beach Museum of Art offers very reasonable membership packages, which include free admission for a year, and children under 18 are always free. You could keep up with the exhibitions and go together when there’s a new one. Maybe you can sign them up for an art class and be responsible for bringing them to it.

This model can be adapted no matter what your child’s interests or age level. If they are very young, even infants, use the guidelines when talking to any childcare providers of medical personnel.

Further Reading:

25 Ways to Ask Your Kids “So How Was School Today?”

How to Make the Most of Your Ten Minutes with Teacher

Talking to Your Child’s Doctor

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