There are big changes coming just around the bend for those who are getting divorced. Under current Florida law, one parent is designated the “primary residential parent”. The primary residence is where the child will live most of the time. The other parent spends time with the children also pays child support according to Florida guidelines. As of October 1, this will change drastically. A new law will go into effect doing away with both the concept of custody as well as the primary parent designation.
What does this mean for parents and children? For the latter, it means more time with each parent. The “standard time sharing”, defined as every other weekend and one night per week with the non-residential parent, is not longer standard or automatic.
While the new law does not expressly create a presumption for joint and rotating custody and does not state that joint custody will be awarded in every situation, it makes it easier, and more likely, for judges to award equal time to each parent. Although this law will not take effect until October 1, judges are already beginning to look at custody, or time sharing, differently.
The new law will also affect child support. Currently, Florida law provides guidelines for the amount of child support to be paid by the non-residential parent. However, when both parents spend an equal amount of overnights with the children, or the paying parent spends at least 40% of the overnights with the children, child support is substantially decreased. In some cases, where parents earn similar incomes, child support can be minimal or nothing.
The new law will also require parents to prepare a detailed parenting plan to be approved and enforced by the court. A parenting plan is a written agreement which spells out time sharing, decision making and communication between parents. This law is designed to provide parents with a written document which sets out the details of their spending time with and handling decision making concerning their children. The goal is to eliminate spending time and money on the numerous child-related issues which arise during divorce. Parenting plans can also resolve by agreement even the relatively minor (from the court’s standpoint) issues such as who will pick up children from soccer practice and who will pay for camp clothing and piano lessons.
It is hard to say with certainty what impact the new law will have on parents and divorce. But it is important to be aware of these changes as they will affect current and future divorces. Anyone currently going through a divorce, or who believes it is a possibility in the future, should seek advice as to this new law and how it will affect the most important aspect of their lives- their relationship with their children.