As the parent of a minor child, obtaining custody rights is likely to be among the most important aspects of your divorce. In recent years, traditional custody and visitation schedules (e.g., the children live with one parent the majority of the time and visit their other parent every other weekend) have become less popular than they once were. And today, many parents focus their efforts on obtaining equal timesharing.
The Florida courts are increasingly in favor of equal timesharing as well. In the Jacksonville area, for example, a majority of the local family court judges will award equal time sharing under a broad range of scenarios. However, even in these courts, equal timesharing is not guaranteed. And divorcing parents must take appropriate measures to help themselves secure the parenting rights they desire.
Establishing that Equal Timesharing Is in Your Children’s “Best Interests”
In all child custody (or “timesharing”) matters, the Florida courts focus on protecting the best interests of the children involved. Section 61.13(3) of the Florida Statutes outlines 19 specific factors that the courts must consider when determining what is in a child’s best interests. It further allows for consideration of “[a]ny other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.”
If you are seeking to obtain equal timesharing during your divorce, you will need to be able to show that your proposed arrangement serves your children’s best interests. Some of the factors that are often most relevant to establishing equal timesharing include:
- “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.” In short, in order for equal timesharing to work, both parents need to be committed to the process. If you are committed to being there for your children but you are also willing to be flexible when flexibility is required, then equal timesharing is likely to be a viable option.
- “The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.” When parenting after a divorce, your children’s needs must always come first. In order to make equal timesharing work, you must be prepared to adjust your professional and personal schedules to meet your children’s needs.
- “The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan.” Typically, for equal timesharing to work, the parents will need to continue to live in relatively close proximity. Your children’s schooling should not be interrupted during time spent with either parent, and your children should have continuity of access to their friends and activities.
- “The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the [divorce], including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.” If you did not share equal responsibility for childrearing and childcare during your marriage, you will need to be prepared to show how you will manage these additional responsibilities after your divorce. Relying on babysitters and other caretakers is not necessarily something that has to change. But if your children will spend a significant portion of your parenting time with someone else, you will need to be able to show how equal timesharing still serves the best interests of your children.
- “The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.” With equal timesharing, parental involvement takes on heightened importance. Being able to enjoy equal time with your children also means taking equal responsibility for getting them where they need to be on time.
Practical Considerations for Obtaining Equal Timesharing in a Florida Divorce
1. Florida Law Does Not Inherently Favor Either Parent.
Contrary to popular belief, Florida law does not inherently favor either parent when it comes to timesharing after a divorce. From a purely legal perspective, both parents start on equal footing. It is up to the parents to show that their desired parenting rights reflect their children’s best interests.
2. If Parents Can Agree to Equal Timesharing, the Courts Will Typically Respect Their Decision.
In many cases, divorcing parents will agree to an equal timesharing arrangement. When this is the case, as long as the arrangement is properly documented and complies with the requirements of Florida law, the judge presiding over the parents’ divorce will generally respect their decision.
3. There Are Various Options for Pursuing an Amicable Divorce (with Equal Timesharing).
Oftentimes, divorcing parents will share some common goals, but they will find it difficult to fully come to terms. If you and your spouse need help arriving at a mutually agreeable outcome to your divorce, there are various options available. These include mediation and collaborative law.
4. The Outcome of Your Divorce Will Be Considered Final, and Modifications Are Granted Only under Limited Circumstances.
Once you and your spouse come to terms, the outcome of your divorce (including your timesharing schedule) will be considered final. As a result, during the divorce process, it is imperative to devote the time and energy necessary to secure a positive outcome. While it is possible to modify a divorce decree in some circumstances, these circumstances are limited and you should not rely on being able to modify your parenting rights after your divorce.
5. If You and Your Spouse Cannot Come to Terms, You May Need to Ask a Judge to Intervene.
While many parents are able to come to terms during the divorce process, if you and your spouse cannot agree on timesharing, you can ask a judge to intervene. In court, the judge may refer you to mediation. And if necessary, he or she will examine all of Florida’s “best interests” factors to arrive at a timesharing arrangement that complies with Florida law.
Request a Confidential Divorce Consultation at Beller & Bustamante, P.L.
If you would like more information about how to pursue equal timesharing during your divorce, we invite you to contact us for a confidential initial consultation. To speak with a divorce lawyer at our offices in Jacksonville, FL, please call 904-288-4414 or inquire online today.