Custody is the most emotionally charged issue in divorce. When parents give up the power to make the most intimate decisions about their family to a court judge, it is likely that one or both parents will be dissatisfied with the decision.
Parents generally live better with a decision that is their own, rather than a decision that is imposed by an unknown third party, a/k/a The Judge.
It is imperative that parents understand the reality of having a court judge make decisions about how their family is going to function in the future, with a limited amount of time and with very little information.
It is often difficult for parents to focus on the best interests of their children during a time when they are focused on themselves and are struggling with the challenging emotions that accompany a divorce.
FLORIDA LAW REQUIRES A PARENTING PLAN
Since 2008, Florida law requires a Parenting Plan for every case involving a minor child. A Parenting Plan is a document created to govern the relationship between the parents regarding the decisions for the minor child. It must contain a visitation schedule, also known as time-sharing schedule, for the parents and child. The Parenting Plan must be developed and agreed to by the parents and approved by a court. However, if the parents cannot agree on a Parenting Plan, one will be established by the court that the parents must follow.
Children thrive with a plan that addresses their development, accounting for age, physical maturity, cognitive abilities, social relationships, and emotional development.
Regressive behaviors, such as wetting a bed, are normal reactions of a child during a divorce. When a parent attempts to project the child’s difficulties onto the other parent, it may actually backfire, and the child may be harmed. A court judge might be concerned about the accusatory parent’s knowledge and ability to parent and may question the parent’s intent and motivation.
HELP CREATING A PARENTING PLAN
If you need help creating a parenting plan, you can get help a court-appointed mental health professional or other professional designated by Florida law. A parenting plan recommendation is not required and is not mandatory. A custody lawyer who has experience in low-conflict mediation is a good place to start.
A parenting plan recommendation will not be binding upon a court judge. He or she can either accept the recommendation or throw it out.
YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO EQUAL VISITATION
Many parents believe that they are entitled to equal visitation with their child. Regardless of what anyone tells you, there simply is no presumption of equal visitation for the parents. Every family is unique. Every family is different with different people, personalities, and characteristics. A court judge is required to evaluate every family and do what is in the best interest of the children of that particular family.
CHILDREN WILL NOT TESTIFY IN COURT
Despite what anyone may tell you, your children will not testify in a court before a Judge. Florida law prohibits deposing a minor child or bringing a minor child to court to appear as a witness or to attend a hearing without prior court order based on good cause shown unless there is an emergency.
THE OTHER PARENT IS A BAD PARENT
Florida law only requires minimally competent parents and both parents are presumed to be fit parents. A court judge will presume that a fit parent will understand that it is important for a child to have two healthy parents involved in his or her life. Parents who understand that sharing in determining and participating in the child’s welfare and upbringing without conflict is normal.
Parents often think the “better” parent should be the one who will have more time with the children and that the children will reside with the “better parent.” This is not what happens. Any visitation schedule ordered by a court judge must meet the best interest of the child and there is no presumption for any particular visitation schedule.
In the eyes of the court judge, the “better parent” is the one who acts in the best interests of the minor child. A judge will expect that the “better parent” will not bash or ridicule the “unfit” parent. Rather, the expectation is that the “better parent” will attempt to rehabilitate or intervene.
If the other parent is truly unfit and damaged, the fit parent’s attempts at individual counseling, family therapy, and interventions, will serve as evidence that they are the “better” parent. If the unfit parent improves, the child benefits from having two healthy parents.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM
Appointing a Guardian Ad Litem, also known as a “GAL” is not necessary in every case. If either parent can protect the best interest of the child, a GAL is generally an unnecessary expense for the parents. The real question is whether a person other than a parent is required to protect the best interest of the child. However, if there are allegations of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect, and those allegations are verified and determined by a court to be well-founded, then a GAL may be required.
The appointment of a GAL keeps the parents as legal enemies and keeps the parents focused on the past rather than on the future. Appointing a GAL is an intrusion into the family by a stranger that demonstrates to the children that there is a real problem with the parents. A GAL’s job is to investigate, report, monitor, and protect in litigation, and litigation has been proven to be harmful to children, the parents, the family, and friends.
Family mediation is usually a much less intrusive option, provided that both parents are open to it.
Unlike a GAL, which is a tool to help the court, a Parenting Coordinator is a tool to help the parents. Parenting Coordinators help parents reach solutions to parenting problems between themselves rather than through court intervention. A Parenting Coordinator is sort of like a therapist mediator with the option for the Parenting Coordinator to communicate with a court judge.
FLORIDA LEGISLATURE REQUIRES MINIMIZING PARENTAL CONFLICT
The Florida legislature has stated “Parental conflict related to divorce is a societal concern because children suffer potential short-term and long-term economic, emotional, and educational harm during this difficult family transition.” Parents who engage in lengthy legal conflict bring harm upon their children.
Parents seem to focus on visitation as the panacea or magic pill to all conflict. Parents should be focused on minimizing conflict between themselves. Simply put, conflict destroys children. So, it is meaningless where a child lays his or her head at night more of the time if the parents are in conflict. And it does not matter if a child spends more time with one parent versus the other parent if there is conflict.
GOOD OUTCOMES FOR CHILDREN AFTER DIVORCE
There are three factors associated with good outcomes for children as follows:
- A close, sensitive working relationship with a psychologically intact parent;
- The minimization of conflict and reasonable cooperation between parents;
- Whether a child came to the divorce with pre-existing psychological difficulties;
DECISION MAKING AND COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS
Parents might have had a lot of difficulty communicating with each other during their marriage.
For example, one parent may feel that he or she makes all the decisions while the other parent has been emotionally distant and should not participate in raising the children after the divorce. Or one parent may feel shut out and prohibited from participating in making decisions. The shut-out parent may feel that he or she needs custody to ensure that they get to participate after the divorce.
Another example might be that one parent feels the other parent is so controlling that he or she needs custody after the divorce to make balance out the inequity.
Finally, a parent might complain that the other parent is impaired and is completely incapable of co-parenting and decision making, or that his or her decision are actually harmful to the children.
A court judge might impose a Parenting Plan that gives one parent the power to have the final decision regarding the children when the parents have demonstrated hostility during the divorce.
LEGAL SHARED CUSTODY
Legal shared custody, also known as Shared Parental Responsibility, addresses decision making and communication. In Florida, there is a legal presumption of equality. In other words, each parent will retain his or her rights and responsibilities regarding the children.
A court judge has three options when it comes to legal custody as follows:
- Shared Parental Responsibility – both parents will confer and cooperate prior to making a decision and will make all decisions jointly.
- Ultimate Responsibility – both parents will confer and cooperate prior to making a decision and one parent has the final word to make the decision if the parents cannot agree
- Sole Responsibility – one parents makes all the decisions without having to confer or cooperate with the other parent
Many parents believe that they should have sole custody of their children because the other parent is a bad parent. Per Florida law, to get Sole Custody, there must be written findings documenting the harm to the child if the parents were to share custody.
When there is conflict between the parents, the exchange of children can be a situation that is harmful to the child. It is imperative to put in place procedures, boundaries, and processes to minimize the conflict.
For example, an exchange of the minor children can be agreed to take place in a public place, like a supermarket or fast food restaurant.
It is a good idea to keep a calendar on your refrigerator with the visitation schedule with each parent in different colors. This will help younger children and their need for stability, continuity, and predictability. It lets them know quickly and at a glance when they will spend time with the other parent.
Another tip is to keep an envelope, pad, and pencil next to the refrigerator. When your child comes home with papers or notices, copies should go into the envelope for the other parent. If your child does something new or different, tell them to write it down so they do not forget to tell the other parent. This demonstrates to your child that you and the other parent respect each other and reinforces the importance of each parent in the child’s life.
Visitation is often a hotly disputed topic. Remember that children will thrive with three factors:
- A close, sensitive relationship with a psychologically intact, and conscientious parent who involves the other parent and encourages a relationship and contact with the other parent;
- The minimization of conflict and reasonable cooperation between the parents;
- Whether the child comes to the divorce with pre-existing psychological challenges;
RELOCATION AND CUSTODY
Most Florida residents come from other states.
So, it is normal for many parents’ extended family and family support to be in other states. During divorce, one of life’s most stressful events, it is normal and natural to reach out to extended family for help and support.
People move. Even in an intact marriage, people generally move every few years.
The focus for a relocation or move must be on the best interest of the children. This type of issue is best resolved outside the courtroom. It can become quite costly to fight and argue about relocation and protracted litigation about this issue does harm to the family and the children.
After a divorce, parents fall into three categories of co-parenting:
- 25-30% have a cooperative co-parenting relationship with joint planning, schedule flexibility, parenting support to each other, and coordination of children’s activities and schedules;
- More than 50% have a parallel parenting arrangement where there is emotional disengagement, low conflict, and minimal communication about the children;
- 20% have a continuing high-conflict relationship with bad communication and very little cooperation
Most parents adopt some form of parallel parenting where both parents effectively parent the children when the children are in their care. The parenting styles may or may not be different in each household. Parallel parenting works with the parents communicating very little except on major issues. Communication is normally done by Email or text messaging rather than in person or by telephone call. Essentially, each parent does his or her own thing when the children are with them. This type of disengaged parenting can result in lower conflict between the parents which is a great benefit to the children.
Safeguards should be put in place until parents can recover from the emotional divorce. Communication plans may be used to restrict how the parents will communicate with each other about the children. Our Family Wizard is a popular online tool for parent communication during and after a divorce. All written communications are recorded and can be used as evidence if necessary.
However, communication plans by themselves is not always effective. When you combine strict communication plans with the parents working with a therapist mediator, your conflict with the other parent can be more effectively minimized. If the parents have intense conflict, a Parenting Coordinator might be a better alternative.
Divorce is an emotional process as well as a legal process.
Emotions might be the source of a historically uninvolved parent wanting to become involved after the other parent files for divorce.
These types of changes in behavior can seem threatening to the other parent because it is an unexplained change in their “normal” behavior. Change can be difficult under normal circumstances of daily life. However, the emotions surrounding change are heightened when parents are divorcing.
LOSS OF TRUST
Divorcing parents lose trust in each other. The breakdown of the marriage is often tied to or linked to trust issues. Rebuilding trust is difficult and working with a mental health professional can create a significant positive shift in the parents’ relationship.
A loss of trust manifests in different ways during divorce, such as:
- One parent claiming that the other parent just sits the children down in front of the television for hours on end, labelling that parenting style as neglectful
- One parent who is suspicious of the other parent might call too much to see if the children are “okay”
These are problems that are not resolved by motions to the court judge requesting that the court tell the parents what they are supposed to do. Rather, these trust issues are best resolved by working with a mental health professional who will focus the parents on achieving a better co-parenting relationship for the future and the children’s well-being.
THE OTHER PARENT’S NEW SIGNIFICANT OTHER
During a divorce, the parents will likely move through the emotional stages at different times. It is unlikely that both parents will experience the same emotions at the same time.
When one parent is ready to move forward and begins a new relationship with someone else, this often causes the other parent to become concerned and fearful from the lack of control. The parent who is not ready to move forward might want the court judge to prohibit the other parent from exposing their children to his or her new romantic partner.
Unless a parent’s new romantic partner is causing harm to the children, there is nothing a court judge will do regarding the children spending time with the parent with the new romantic partner.
CUSTODY WHEN YOU BOTH CONTINUE TO LIVE TOGETHER
The economics of divorce are incredibly challenging. For people who struggle to make on household work financially, it can feel like an impossibility to make two, separate households work.
If the parents choose to continue to live together, it is imperative that therapeutic intervention be utilized as early as possible. Setting up boundaries will be incredibly important for this type of environment. Domestic violence might become a reality with this type of living arrangement, so it is critical to have plans in place if this becomes an issue for you.
KEEP YOUR CUSTODY ISSUES OUT OF THE COURTROOM
Running to the courthouse for every issue that comes up regarding custody is not the most effective option and is often the most expensive option. Relying on the court judge to make all the decisions regarding custody usually only serves the purpose of keeping you and the other parent in high conflict. High conflict has been proven to be a major cause of destruction of children in the middle of a divorce.
KEEP A DIARY, JOURNAL, OR LOG
A documented record of custody issues can be valuable if there is no other option to resolve the custody problems than going before a court judge.
DRUG OR ALCOHOL ABUSE
With drug or alcohol abuse, the children’s well-being and health are at risk. There is evidence that an infant’s future development can be damaged if a parent suffers trauma from the other parent. The baby’s ability to trust his or her parents can be permanently damaged.
The following is a list of potential harm to children when there is drug or alcohol abuse:
- Children will become survival oriented if there is a lack of adequate food and shelter;
- Children may have an inability to develop close relationships, show affection, or empathize with others when there is an emotionally detached parent or a parent abandons them;
- Children can become angry, fearful, and physically act out if a parent is unpredictably explosive or violent;
- Children can learn inappropriate behaviors when they are exposed to open infidelity, substance abuse or distorted values.
ACE (“Adverse Childhood Experiences”) scores can rise dramatically from early childhood trauma that will follow children well into adulthood and beyond. Minimizing childhood trauma from parental conflict must be a priority for all divorcing parents.
Interventions may be necessary and it might be best to mutually agree to one, neutral evaluator. If that is not possible, then each of you should select a neutral evaluator and those two evaluators will select the expert to be used.
Often, this is not an issue. Rather, the problem is really some combination of emotions, lack of ability to communicate, and using the children inappropriately as messengers and confidants, or putting them in the middle of the divorce.
An alienated child will freely and regularly express unreasonable negative feelings and beliefs, like anger, hatred, fear, or rejection) toward one parent that is out of proportion with the child’s actual experience with that parent.
There can be a myriad of reasons why a child may be rejecting one parent, other than parental alienation, and include the following:
- Normal separation anxieties;
- Fear or lack of ability to cope with the family transition;
- A rigid or angry response to a parent’s parenting style;
- Fear of leaving a parent alone;
- Behaviors of a parent, such as a remarriage, that affect a child’s willingness to spend time with that parent
Your child might prefer you or the other parent. Or your child might align with you or the other parent. This, in and of itself, does not rise to the level of parental alienation.
CONTACT A SKILLED, AGGRESSIVE, COMPASSIONATE AND EXPERIENCED ORLANDO CUSTODY LAWYER TODAY
Starting a divorce can be difficult. Divorce is the second, most stressful event someone will ever experience. It is important to have a guide who can help you identify your rights and responsibilities that you might overlook trying to do it yourself. Having a custody attorney who focuses their practice 100% on family law and divorce is essential because you need a professional who understands everything about divorce. The anger, the fear, the betrayal, and the anxiety about your financial future.
Divorce and divorce-related situations is all we do here at Leap Frog Divorce. We’re ready to help you today, and we have affordable options.