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Consumer Pamphlet: Parenting and Divorce

Table of Contents

Parenting and DivorceChildren and divorce
Parents’ duties
Parenting plans
Additional resources

Children and Divorce

Children are our most precious resource. We must protect them from undue hurt and turmoil. Throughout the divorce process (also called a “dissolution of marriage”), care of the minor children should be the primary concern for both parents. Although you are ending your marriage to your spouse, neither parent is ending his or her relationship with the children, and each parent will continue to have parental rights and responsibilities, unless otherwise ordered by a court.

Divorce can be a major personal crisis for adults and children. Stress can produce physical symptoms, behavioral issues, and emotional problems. Children of different ages may react differently to divorce – ranging from irritability in infants to drug use in adolescents. Recognizing the signs of negative changes early on and helping your children deal with them may prevent serious problems in the future.

One way that divorcing parties may reduce the negative impact of divorce is by quickly coming to an agreement on most, if not all, parenting issues during the divorce process. Having a written agreement between you and your spouse can avoid or significantly minimize harm to the children and avoid a drawn-out court battle.

If, however, you are unable to resolve these issues by agreement with your spouse, the court must decide them for you.

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Parents’ Duties

In a divorce situation, the parents should at all times conduct themselves and their activities in a way that will promote the welfare and best interests of the children. It is the public policy of Florida that each child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage is dissolved, unless otherwise ordered by a court. It is also the public policy of Florida to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of child-rearing. There is no presumption for or against either parent when it comes to these rights and responsibilities, regardless of the parent’s gender.

Each parent has an affirmative duty under Florida law to promote a positive and ongoing relationship between the children and the other parent. Both parents must attempt to ensure that the children have unhampered contact and free access with both parents Neither parent may do anything to hamper the natural development of the children’s love and respect for the other parent. This means that a parent should not disparage the other parent or discuss issues involving the divorce in the children’s presence. Each parent also must make all reasonable efforts to encourage and facilitate communication between the other parent and the children. Neither parent should do anything that would estrange the children from the other parent or that would injure the children’s opinion of either parent. The parents should also consider whether electronic communication would help supplement face-to-face contact between the parent and children during and after the divorce proceeding. The court may order electronic parent-child communication in appropriate circumstances; however, electronic communication may not be used to replace or as a substitute for face-to-face parent-child contact.

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Parenting Plans

Florida law requires the creation of a written parenting plan for all children subject to a dissolution of marriage action. Parenting plans are designed to reflect the modern-day challenges and circumstances facing parents and minor children before, during, and after a dissolution of marriage.

Parenting plans largely address two major categories of parental rights: (1) parental responsibility, and (2) timesharing.

The parental responsibility provisions of a parenting plan address the details of how the parents will share in the decision-making responsibilities for both major decisions and the day-to-day tasks involved in raising children. In Florida, there is a presumption that shared parental responsibility is in the best interest of the children, thus requiring the parents to discuss and make all major decisions for the children jointly. If, however, either parent seeks to prohibit the other parent from being involved in the decision-making process, that parent may request permission from the court to have sole parental responsibility. A parent who is seeking to have sole parental responsibility is required to prove to the court that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the children. A parent can also request ultimate decision making over specific aspects of a child’s welfare.

The timesharing provisions of the parenting plans establish the amount of time the children will spend with each parent on a regular basis, during holidays, and during school breaks.

Parenting plans also address issues including, but not limited to, identifying which parent’s address will be used for school registration and boundary determination, and methods and technologies that may be used for communicating with the children during the other parent’s timesharing.

Parents may attempt to reach an agreement on some or all of the provisions within a parenting plan. If a full or partial agreement is reached, the parties can submit their signed parenting plan to the court for review and approval. In approving a parenting plan, a court must determine what is in the best interest of the child based on 20 factors established by Florida law. Among the 20 factors, to be considered by the court are:

  • The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
  • The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the plan.
  • The moral fitness of the parents.
  • The mental and physical health of the parents.
  • The child’s home, school, and community record.
  • The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
  • Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect or evidence that a parent has or has had reasonable cause to believe that he or she or his or her minor children are in imminent danger of becoming victims of an act of domestic violence, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child.

There are additional factors and considerations to be made by the court in approving a parenting plan. The above are just a few examples of those considerations. The purpose of the parenting plan is ultimately for the parties to have a clear, written understanding of their parental rights and responsibilities following the separation and divorce. The more closely and cooperatively the two parents can work through co-parenting issues and consider the primary goal of doing what is in the best interest of the children, the easier the dissolution of marriage process will be for the entire family.

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Additional Resources

In all divorce cases involving minor children, parents in Florida are required to attend an approved four-hour parenting course that addresses the consequences of divorce on families and children. Each parent must complete a parenting class before the divorce is finalized.

In addition to attending the required parenting class, you and your spouse may find it helpful to consult professionals, including Florida family law attorneys, family law mediators, parenting coordinators (also known as parenting facilitators) and/or family counselors, to help develop a parenting plan that both parties can agree to. All of these professionals can help parents develop their own parenting plan to reduce the issues that need to be resolved by the court so that the entire family can avoid the emotional and financial toll that litigating parenting issues in court can have.

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The material in this pamphlet has been based on, and some of it has been taken directly from, Florida statutes in effect at the time it was written and represents general legal advice. Since the law is continually changing, some provisions in this pamphlet may be out of date. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your particular case.

This pamphlet is produced as a public service for consumers by The Florida Bar.

[Updated May 2024]