From TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2014

THE TOP "10" PARENTING PLAN ERRORS

A seasoned divorce attorney knows immediately at the end of a case whether or not the soon-to-be former husband and former wife will be returning to court in the near future and spending all of their college savings for their children on attorneys while re-litigating issue after issue for the next 15 years.  A bad parenting plan is a bad parenting plan. The term among divorce attorneys and divorce judges is simply, "Garbage in, garbage out," which means the skill and effort put into an agreement or trial is directly reflected in the agreement or judgment by the Court. One section of your Marital Settlement Agreement with Parenting Plan (MSAPP) is a parenting plan itself. Avoiding these top 10 parenting plan mistakes may save you many thousands of dollars in the future and years of frustration and inconvenience dealing with divorce attorneys and spending time in the divorce courtroom.

The Top "10" Parenting Plan mistakes are:

1. The use of a non-specific parenting schedule (using terms such as "liberal and frequent time sharing") versus a defined and understanding time sharing schedule.

2. Failing to consider future residential moves by either party, whether short or long distance.

3. Failing to consider electronic document sharing (health, education, extra-curricular activity, etc.)

4. Failing to consider travel and travel restrictions, including foreign travel to countries that are not parties of the Hague Convention (this allows a mechanism for return of your child if wrongfully detained in the foreign country.)

5. Failure to discuss whether eye care, braces or mental health, etc. constitutes health treatment, the initiations of said treatment and the sharing of costs.

6. If you child(ren) is(are) young, failing to discuss changes to time sharing and other aspects of the Parenting Plan after the child(ren) reach(es) a certain age and start(s) elementary school, middle school and high school. Furthermore, failure to discuss transportation issues for the child once he or she is 16 years old and he or she is of age to have a driver's license (i.e., automobile, insurance, etc.)

7. Failure to have a unified "chore" list at both residences, and failure to have a unified "discipline" system at both residences. Failure to define a communication schedule and type of communication, including when, how often, who pays for it, type (electronic, cell or landline, etc.) Some former spouses still enjoy being passive-aggressive and calling the child at 6:45 a.m. when they know the entire family is sleeping.

8. Failure to discuss and develop a policy whether pictures of your child can be posted on the internet (Facebook, etc.) by you or a third party.

9. What is the role of step-parents or significant others? And for the purposes of introduction, etc., when does that person become a "significant other"? What is the role of grandparents and extended family?

10. Failure to define support and financial planning. How much support will be paid for matters as extra-curricular activities, tutoring, etc.? How will it be paid? When will the financial obligation end? College funds and life insurance should also be defined, and again determine when the financial obligation for those will end.

Please note the Florida Supreme Court has a "form" Parenting Plan.  It is of essence to understand this is merely a form developed by one committee.  Pursuant to Florida Statute Ch. 61, there are some mandatory provisions that must be incorporated in the Parenting Plan. However, there are only approximately six mandatory provisions in a Parenting Plan, and therefore you can be as creative as you want in all other clauses. You can put anything you want in the Parenting Plan as long as it is legal and your former spouse either accepts it or you convince the Court to adopt it. My clients have included clauses that include types of acceptable clothing to wear at school (when they are concerned that the other parent does not have adequate taste or maturity to properly dress a child); specific prohibition of contact with known "bad" relatives; mandatory drug testing and the consequences for testing positive for certain substances.

The Parenting Plan is your opportunity to have a contract with your former spouse / parent / partner for your child(ren) that will solely benefit the child(ren) by having consistency and routine between the residences and a unified front, and a proper Parenting Plan is the only way to prevent your child(ren) from playing the two of you against each other, as they have keenly observed you and your former spouse pushing each other's buttons for probably a long period of time and they have observed precisely how you react (unfortunately, other than responding) when said button has been pushed. 

Your imagination is the only limitation when developing additional clauses for your Parenting Plan. Remember, the power of the pen (or keyboard).