Children’s Best Interests: Parenting Plans Entail Prediction

Woman holding glass ball covering right eye. Photo by Jonathan Sebastio (Unsplash)

Parenting plans govern parents’ future conduct in relationship towards each other and towards their children.  These relationships comprise regular and holiday timesharing schedules, decision making about major events in your child’s life, and communications. Parents and judges necessarily look ahead to create parenting plans that promote children’s best interests.

As the concurring judge observed in Natali v. Natali, Case No. 2D20-513 2d DCA Mar 26, 2021, parenting plans govern future conduct.  

Moreover, Florida’s “best interest” factors in Section 61.13(3), Florida Statutes, which trial judges must make findings about when adopting initial Parenting Plans, include:

  • The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties [61.13(3)(b)]; 
  • The geographic viability of the parenting plan . . . and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan [61.13(3)(e)];
  • Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time- sharing schedule [61.13(3)(t)]

At the time of an initial divorce or paternity proceeding, there may be murky evidence or no evidence about future events.  Alternatively, clear evidence may show such events, although probable, are not certain to occur at an identifiable time.  This indefiniteness may cause your judge to play it safe and not make predictions and orders about the future. 

That leaves you and your child’s other parent, even when you know you’ll want to address predictable future events, thinking you will face an extraordinary burden of proof to modify your parenting plan. 

If your judge initially won’t (because the judge can’t) engage in prospective-based “best interest” determinations, when predictable events do take place, you or the other parent may conclude filing an adversarial modification lawsuit is your only option.  But it isn’t. 

Further, rather than leaving prediction the law does allow to a judge, who has never met and doesn’t know your child, you and the child’s other parent may want to anticipate and plan for future events. 

You should be able to plan, shouldn’t you?

Parents Plan for Many Events for Their Children

Parents in intact relationships and those who are separating plan for milestones and future events for their children. Examples include:

  • Starting kindergarten or the next grade.
  • Graduating from grade school or middle school.
  • Getting tutoring or prep courses for exams.
  • Adjusting school boundary designations for planned future changes in residence.
  • Securing and continuing for a special needs child an Individual Education Plan (IEP), therapies, a special needs trust, guardianship, and skilled caretaking.
  • Engaging with family and friends, including attending playdates, birthday parties, and celebrations. 
  • Participating in extracurricular activities, including sports, arts, and clubs
  • Going on vacations.
  • Traveling abroad when of age.
  • Introducing future partners and blended family members.
  • Beginning or continuing medical care or therapy.
  • Getting braces.
  • Beginning or continuing mental health treatment, including counseling as the need arises.
  • Driving. 

Should parents and courts be able to create flexible parenting plans anticipating and adjusting for such events?

What Happens When Attempts to Plan Collide With Florida’s Modification Burden?

Parents’ and courts’ best intentions may meet the buzzsaw of Florida’s modification standard. That standard is called the “substantial change in circumstances” test. An element of this test is the circumstances you believe justify modifying your parenting plan were not reasonably contemplated at the time of the final judgment.  Read more here.

The prospect of being unable to meet the burdensome test for modification, for circumstances reasonably contemplated and predictable at the time of the final judgment – even if not “certain” – can:

  • Create inflexible Parenting Plans,
  • Delay initial settlement of parenting issues, because parents get stuck on “what ifs” about predictable circumstances, and 
  • Invite undue future fighting in costly, emotional, and time-consuming proceedings.

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

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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