By Attorney Howard Iken: While child custody cases can be difficult on both parents and their children, parents who are able to amicably develop a parenting plan with timeshare arrangements that are mutually acceptable can significantly ease the emotional hardships often experienced in custody cases. While experienced Florida child custody attorneys can often guide parents to such resolutions, there are many situations where such an agreement cannot be reached so the judge, frequently assisted by an expert or guardian ad litem, may need to consider statutory factors relevant to the best interest of the child standard used for determining child custody in Florida. While a full discussion of these factors is beyond the scope of this blog post, our Florida custody dispute attorneys have suggested three ways that parents might be able to favorably influence the judge’s decision.
Devoting Time to Your Kids
While it might seem obvious that spending significant amounts of time with your children is one of the best ways to positively affect timeshare and parenting plan arrangements, many parties that work long hours find this difficult. If one spouse is a stay-at-home parent or works a relatively limited number of hours when the kids are in school, the other parent might be at a disadvantage if he or she works long hours. Although some parents who have 60-80 hour work week schedules assume they can compensate by having a grandparent or other close relatives care for the kids when the parent is at school, this strategy generally is ineffective.
A Florida family law judge usually will choose to place the children with a parent rather than any third party even a loving grandparent. If a parent who works long hours wants a substantial amount of parenting time, an adjustment in one’s work schedule might be worth considering if it is a viable option. The point is to free up blocks of time where the parent can be a primary caretaker for the children. A parent in this situation might reduce his or her hours or shift to a schedule with longer work days but more consecutive days off. While you might want to discuss such strategies with your Florida child custody attorney before taking action, the point is that the most effective way to get a substantial amount of parenting time is to devote significant periods as a primary caretaker for your kids.
Pay Attention to School Performance and Records
The versions of family dynamics related by parents in a divorce often differ so fundamentally that it is hard to imagine that the parents occupied the same household. Because of this “he said-she said” scenario, a judge, guardian ad litem or custody evaluator may view some facts communicated by parents with a degree of skepticism. The subjective nature of such accounts of parenting dynamics typically communicated by the parents puts a premium on objective verifiable evidence of a child’s well-being and achievement. School success both in term of academics and social interaction can provide powerful evidence indicating that an existing custody arrangement is either working effectively or that the child is not responding well to the arrangement.
For example, a judge may feel some hesitancy about making substantial changes to the status quo if a child is excelling in class and doing well socially in school. By contrast, a parent with whom a child lives the majority of the time may need to explain why the child is struggling academically or failing to attend school regularly.
Divorce can be hard on children so it is not necessarily a parent’s fault that a child’s grades suffer, but both parents need to be aware that the judge and others making recommendation in Florida child custody cases will look closely at school records. If a child is failing academically, exhibiting poor behavior, engaging in fights or otherwise struggling in school, this information often will prove important. Serious deficiencies in academic, social or behavior functioning in school may be used as evidence that a change from the status quo is appropriate.
Promoting a Positive Relationship with the Other Parent
Most divorces and breakups between those in a co-parenting relationship are accompanied by negative feelings toward the other parent at least to some degree. One of the most difficult but effective ways to demonstrate to a Florida family law judge that you deserve substantial parenting time is to be cooperative and positive toward your children’s relationship with the other parent. Florida judges favor frequent and continuing contact with both parents as an important component of the best interest of the child standard. If a parent who has the bulk of the parenting time is liberal and cooperative about providing access to the other parent, this promotes the sense that the parent will encourage a continuing relationship with the other parent. When parents make disparaging remarks about the other parent or engage in a pattern of conduct intended to alienate the child from the other parent, this type of evidence may have a significant adverse impact on the parent engaged in this type of conduct.
If you are involved in a divorce or paternity action in Florida, an experienced Florida Child Custody Attorney can evaluate your situation and advise you regarding the best approach to shielding your kids from the potentially adverse effects of a custody dispute while obtaining a positive outcome in terms of your parenting plan and timeshare arrangements.