Collaborative Family Law Agreements: Parenting Plan Basics

Man and woman holding hands together with boy and girl looking at green trees. Photo by John-Mark Smith (Unsplash)

What is a Parenting Plan?

In Florida, a ‘Parenting Plan’ governs the relationship between parents “relating to decisions that must be made regarding the minor child.” Section 61.046(14), Florida Statutes. See CN  v. IGC, Case No. SC20-505 (Florida Supreme Court April 29, 2021)

A court’s authority to order parenting plans comes from section 61.13(2), Florida Statutes. That section sets out minimum required parenting plan provisions. For example, they include “time-sharing schedule arrangements” that specify when the child will be with each parent.

You and child’s other parent may agree to a parenting plan. Moreover, courts often prefer and approve agreed parenting plan provisions to those on which parents don’t agree. Still, the court need not approve your proposed plan. Instead, it may develop its own plan. The court may do that when it finds it’s best for your child. See Section 61.046(14)(a), Florida Statutes.

Section 61.13(3) lists factors a court must consider when figuring out your child’s best interests. The court may consider any other factors. See Section 61.13(3)(t).  

A judge may modify your Parenting Plan. The judge can’t do that, however, unless one parent proves a “substantial change in circumstances” and that requested changes are in your child’s best interest. See Section 61.13(3, Florida Statutes and Wade v. Hirschman, 903 So.2d 928 (Fla. 2005). These principles apply in paternity cases, too. Section 742.031(1), Florida Statutes.

The Substantial Change in Circumstances Test

A parent seeking modification of parenting plan provisions must show:

  • Circumstances have substantially, materially changed;
  • You and the other parent did not “reasonably contemplate” the substantial change at the time of the last custody order; and
  • Your child’s best interests justify changing custody.

For more about the substantial change in circumstances test, read here.

A parent who wants to change the “status quo” of a parenting plan must file a petition with proper service of process. Clark v. Clark, 204 So. 3d. 589 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016).

Statutory Exception to Best Interest Standard: Modification

Section 61.13(2)(c), Florida Statutes states modification of a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule requires a showing of a substantial, material, and unanticipated change of circumstances. The petitioning parent “must show that (1) circumstances have substantially and materially changed since the original custody determination, (2) the change was not reasonably contemplated by the parties, and (3) the child’s best interests justify changing custody.”  Hutchinson v. Hutchinson, 287 So. 3d 695 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019) (quoting Korkmaz v. Korkmaz, 200 So. 3d 263 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016).

Can You Anticipate and Provide in Your Parenting Plan Modifications for Future Events?

As stated earlier, a parent who seeks modification must show the parents didn’t anticipate the change in circumstances. See Patel v. Patel, Case No. 1D20-3231 (Fla. 1st DCA Jul 19, 2021) (emergency room doctor dad failed to show scheduling challenges, which made weekend timesharing difficult, differed substantially from those he faced when the judge adopted the parenting plan). So, does that mean you and the judge can’t anticipate and provide in your Parenting Plan for future changes? What if things that you and the other parent predict will happen do happen? Can you avoid returning to court?

In the next section, learn more about agreements you and the other parent might reach for events you predict.

Read More:

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

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

Part 4: Florida Parenting Plans and Events Reasonably Certain to Occur

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

Part 6: Collaborative Parenting Plans: Extraordinary Burden for Modification

Part 7: Collaborative Family Law: 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 Events Occur

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

Part 12: Contingencies Parents Build into their Parenting Plans in Florida Divorces

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

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