Custody and visitation are fighting words. Divorce lawyers and judges are beginning to use the less confrontational term “time-sharing” instead. The new term is not just a euphemism. It also signals a different approach to an age-old problem. It emphasizes the needs of the children, not the rights of the parents. Florida’s family law courts believe that it is usually in the child’s best interest for both parents to have frequent, unhampered and meaningful access to their children, even infants, who are capable of forming multiple attachments and bonds.
A time-sharing agreement made by both parents is preferable to a court-imposed solution. However, if parents are unable to agree on visitation, courts frequently order visitation according to commonly used guidelines. In determining visitation, a court will give due regard to many factors, including the age of the children involved, their educational commitments, health and social factors, business commitments of the parents and the geographical distances between the parents.
There are three main areas that must be addressed when creating a visitation agreement:
- Time Sharing – A schedule should anticipate the times of day, days of the week and what weeks of the year. Holidays visits and Special days such as Birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day should be clearly spelled out.
- Exchange – Parents often forget to specify in their agreement how the children will be exchanged. If parents live a distance from each other or relocate after the dissolution of marriage, the method of exchange can become a point of great contention. Pick up and drop off at the home of the primary residential parent may not be fair in all situations. Job schedules and weekend plans may make it difficult for one parent to pick up or drop off the children in a timely manner.
- Communication – It is vital to agree to a method of communication regarding issues that concern the children, including visitation. Are third parties be involved in the communication process? The method of communication should avoid the use of the children as messengers as much as possible.
Of course, parents can agree between themselves to modify the visitation agreement as life’s circumstances change and individual needs develop. Such modification can be informal, on an as-needed basis, or it can be formalized by petitioning the court if there has been a substantial change in circumstances.
If you would like to speak to an attorney about this, or any other legal issue, you can contact Villafranco & Garcia, PLLC. at (772) 288-7338 or (772) 871-6441.
This column is an overview of the subject matter and is not intended as legal advice. Villafranco & Garcia, PLLC. are attorney’s practicing law in Stuart, FL, Port Saint Lucie, FL and Fort Pierce, FL.