Children’s Best Interests: Parenting Plans and Events Reasonably Certain to Occur

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When Can a Judge Look Ahead?

Judges may allow a timesharing plan that applies the child’s best interests, as determined at the final hearing in a Florida divorce or paternity action, to an event reasonably and objectively certain to occur at an identifiable time.  For such events, judges need no crystal ball.

Otherwise, you’d continuously have to seek permission from them after every change that inevitably occurs in your child’s life, like starting school.

Sometimes No Crystal Ball is Required

In a paternity case, Rivera v. Purtell, 252 So. 3d 283 (Fla. 5th DCA 2018), the trial court mistakenly concluded it couldn’t modify custody prospectively once the child started kindergarten. That was a reasonably certain future event, allowing the trial court prospectively to modify 50-50 overnight timesharing to giving dad majority timesharing during the school year unless mom moved within 25 miles of dad’s residence by that time.  

In the Fifth District’s view, Arthur only prohibits a trial court from predicting a change in a child’s best interests as of some future date or event.  For other cases, however, no “crystal ball” is required, because a judge, based on the child’s best interests as of trial, can make conclusions about events reasonably and objectively certain to happen at a definite time.  

“When crafting a timesharing plan, a trial court must be free to account for reasonably and objectively certain future events. Otherwise, the parties would be required to continuously seek permission from the court after every change that inevitably occurs in a child’s life, like starting school. We decline Mother’s invitation to interpret Arthur’s prohibition so broadly that Florida’s trial courts become de facto parents.”

Compare:

Amiot v. Olmstead, Case No. 1D20-680 (Fla. 1st DCA May 11, 2021), in which the court struck a conditional provision the trial court included in an order modifying timesharing a condition that, if mom were to relocate back from California to within 60 miles of Bay County Florida, timesharing would revert to the original schedule the parties agreed to in their marital settlement agreement; and

Snowden v. Snowden, 985 So.2d 584 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008), in which the trial court rejected a dad’s petition to modify custody and enforce a final judgment of dissolution of marriage that provided custody would change if either parent drank alcohol or took illegal drugs while the kids were in the parent’s custody; with

Stevens v. Stevens, 929 So.2d 721 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006), in which a planned custody change based on an expected date-certain event, namely, dad’s finishing his tour of duty, enabled the court to modify prospectively timesharing.

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But…don’t all Parenting Plans, which govern parents’ future conduct, derive from parents’ or judges’ predictions about future events?

Read More:

Part 1: Collaborative Family Law Agreements and A Child’s Prospective Best Interests 

Part 2: Collaborative Family Law Agreements: Florida Parenting Plan Basics

Part 3: Collaborative Family Law Agreements: Protecting a Child’s Future Best Interests

Part 5: Children’s Best Interests: Parenting Plans Entail Prediction

Part 6: Collaborative Parenting Plans: Extraordinary Burden for Modification

Part 7: Collaborative Family Law Agreements: Florida Favors Settlement Agreements

Part 8: Collaborative Parenting Plans: Judges Must Safeguard Children

Part 9: Collaborative Parenting Plans: Anticipating Events Reasonably Certain to Occur

Part 10: Parenting Plan Modification: Enlist Court review When Predicted Events Occur

Part 11: Collaborative Parenting Plans: How Will You Resolve Future Impasses?

Part 12: Can Contingencies Parents Build into their Parenting Plans Be Modifications?

Part 13: Parenting Plans: Agreeing to a Different Burden for Modification

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