In 2008, Florida law regarding children’s issues changed substantially. The term “custody” was eliminated, as was the prior designation of primary and secondary residential parents. The term “time-sharing” became the appropriate term to describe a parent and child’s time with each other – not visitation. The Court is now required to approve, grant or modify a “parenting plan,”

Florida courts recognize that a parent has a constitutionally protected “inherent right’ to a meaningful relationship with his or her children. It is the public policy of the State of Florida that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents divorce or separate. The public policy is codified in our statute. Section 61.13(2)(c)1 sets forth Florida’s public policy as to time-sharing schedules:

It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing. There is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying the parenting plan of the child.

In every case involving a child, the court must approve a “parenting plan.” Section 61.046(14) defines a “parenting plan” as follows:

[A] document created to govern the relationship between the parents relating to decision that must be made regarding the minor child and must contain a time-sharing schedule for the parents and child. The issues concerning the minor child may include, but are not limited to, the child’s education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being. In creating the plan, all circumstances between the parents, including their historic relationship, domestic violence, and other factors must be taken into consideration.

In every parenting plan, the language must include how the parties are to make decisions affecting the minor child. The court has three options is making a parental responsibility determination: shared parental responsibility, shared parental responsibility with ultimate responsibility over specific aspects of the child’s welfare, or sole parental responsibility.

Section 61.047(17) defines “shared parental responsibility” as follows: [A] court-ordered relationship in which both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their children and in which both parents confer with each other so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly.

In most cases, the court will order shared parental responsibility unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility will be detrimental to the child. If the court finds that shared parental responsibility will be detrimental to the child, the court may order sole parental responsibility, with or without time-sharing with the other parent if it is in the best interests of the child. Lastly, the court may grant one party the ultimate responsibility for specific aspects of the child’s welfare, or may divide those responsibilities between the parties based upon the best interests of the child. Areas of responsibility may include education, health care, and other responsibilities that the court finds unique to a particular family.

Once the court determines how the parents will make decisions affecting the welfare of the child, the court must approve, modify or establish a time-sharing schedule. Section 61.046(22) defines a “time-sharing schedule” as follows:

[A] timetable that must be included in a parenting plan that specifies the time, including overnights and holiday, that a minor child will spend with each parent. If developed and agreed to by the parents of a minor child, it must be approved by the court. If the parents cannot agree, the schedule shall be established by the court.

In making a determination for parental responsibility and for creating, developing, or approving a parenting plan to include a time-share schedule, the court must evaluate all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular child and the circumstances of the that family including but not limited to the factors set forth in 61.13(3)(a)-(t). There is no presumption for or against any specific time-sharing schedule as long as the parenting plan and time-sharing scheduled contained in the plan meets the best interests of the minor child.