Florida family law has undergone significant changes in the last several years, especially as it concerns a father's visitation rights. Rather than the old model of sole custody arrangements, Florida adopted a flexible parenting system that encourages the involvement of both parents in the life of the child. A father's visitation rights are stronger than ever, but there are several issues that you need to be familiar with.
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act
Passed in 1997, the Uniform Child Custody Act is now law in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It created a uniform set of standards to assess custody arrangements and disagreements about visitation rights. Under the law, the court that settled the initial custody agreement maintains the right of jurisdiction, even if circumstances change. This means that if the mother moves the children to Georgia while you remain in Florida, the family courts in Florida remain the authority in all custody and visitation matters. As long as you continue to live in Florida and your children maintain strong ties to the state by visiting you regularly, the mother cannot change the arrangements or limit your visitation rights in violation of Florida law.
Flexible parenting plans in Florida are designed to ensure equal rights for both parents in terms of visitation and custody. The plans address three critical issues for divorced families.
The children did not get the benefit of knowing both of their parents, leading to psychological and social issues later in life.
The custodial parents often felt overwhelmed with the responsibilities of being a single parent and too much of the burden of child rearing was placed on one party.
The non-custodial parents, in particular fathers, fought a constant battle for just a few hours of time with their children since many custody arrangements had very loose guidelines for visitation.
During the divorce proceedings, the court will ask the parents to file a parenting plan for the children. The plan must be detailed and include terms for not just how the children spend their vacations, but how daily matters and visitation are handled. The court looks at how the parents plan to balance the child's time and takes into account health and school issues before approving the plan. A recent development requires the parents to outline any methods of communication to be used between the child and the non-custodial parent such as cellphones or social media. For instance, you may want to include a clause in the parenting plan that mentions a dedicated cellphone, which you pay for, that the child will control solely for calling you. This helps eliminate problems caused if the custodial parent refuses the child access to another phone.
Changes To The Plan
Your visitation rights are secured once the custody agreement is approved by the courts and both parents must abide by the terms outlined in the parenting plan. The courts understand that there will be changes in the child's life that necessitate modifications to the plan, but the changes must be substantial in order for any changes to occur. If you and your ex-wife agree that the previous plan was not working you can request a change in the plan, following the same guidelines you used for the original plan.
Custodial Parent's Responsibility
Previously, mothers had total control over access to the children, even violating your visitation rights regularly. Now, the custodial parents must be accommodating and active in helping their children maintain a strong relationship with the non-custodial parent. This involvement may include anything from taking them to your home for visitation, setting aside time for the child to call you during the week, even requiring the child to fulfill visitation hours. Failure to meet these requirements is considered a violation of the parenting plan and is punishable.
In a bitter divorce, the mother may resort to alienation to convince the child not to visit. Alienation can occur through physically limiting your access but can be expanded to include negative comments about you that shape the child's perception of you. Any attempt at interference must be documented and if the problems persist, contact your family law attorney to request a hearing on the issue. The courts are much less lenient about interference than ever before since they want to foster positive relationships between the children and both parents, and judges penalize custodial parents who make it difficult for the non-custodial parent to see their child.
Though interference is generally assumed to come only from the mother, you can be guilty of "custodial interference" yourself. Be mindful of all timetables and schedules in the parenting plan and abide by them to the letter. Returning the child to the custodial parent late is a violation of the agreement and you will be subject to punishment under custodial interference statutes.
Third Party Support
In a rough divorce, there will be lingering feelings of hostility for years and that makes the transfer of the children from one parent to another extremely difficult. To ensure things go smoothly, contact a neutral third party to handle the exchange, like an old family friend. At the very least, arrange the transfer to occur at a public site to avoid a nasty argument.
The most important thing to note about your visitation rights is that you are the one responsible for getting the access you deserve. Keep detailed records about the dates and times that you spend with the children and any money that you spend for their care, health or education. When problems arise, don't try to handle them on your own. Consult a family law attorney when you have issues with your visitation rights.
A father's visitation rights are protected and an important part of modern custody arrangements. Be sure to follow the guidelines provided by the court and don't feel pressured to accept limited rights.