When you have children, they become the absolute priority in your life. The thought of not being able to see your child or children whenever you want is heartbreaking, scary and confusing. Whether you are going through a divorce or a paternity action, knowing when you can expect to spend time with your child or children is important and may ease your fears. After reviewing this article, you should consider hiring an experienced family law lawyer to help you through this process.

First, it is important to know some definitions. Please see the list below for helpful terms that will be frequently used by your lawyer and the court system:

Paternity: A legal proceeding where a man is determined to be the legal father of a child.
Divorce: A legal proceeding used to end a marriage. The end result of a divorce is the termination of the marital partnership, which then permits the former spouses to live separate and apart for the remainder of their lives.
Timesharing: Timesharing used to be called “visitation” and refers to the division of time for a child with parents who no longer live together.
Parenting Plan: A document that governs the relationship and time-sharing schedule between the parents and children.
Best Interests of the Child: A set of factors courts use to determine parental responsibility and an appropriate timesharing schedule.
Parental Responsibility: A term used to describe the privileges and responsibilities that parents have with respect to their child.

In Florida, there is currently no presumption for or against a specific timesharing schedule with either parent. That means the timesharing schedule between parents is not always 50/50. Judges must utilize the best interest of the child standard (Florida Statute §61.13(3)) when determining parental responsibility and an appropriate parenting plan. The factors the court considers to figure out what is in a child’s best interest include but are not limited to:

(a) The ability 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;
(b) The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties;
(c) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent;
(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
(e) 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 parenting plan; (f) The moral fitness of the parents;
(g) The mental and physical health of the parents;
(h) The home, school, and community record of the child;
(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference;
(j) The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things;
(k) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime;
(l) The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child;
(m) Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought; (n) Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect;
(o) The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties;
(p) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities;
(q) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse;
(r) The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child;
(s) The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs; and
(t) Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.

A subsequent article will address how courts apply the above-listed factors when asked to order a timesharing schedule. If you need immediate information, be sure to contact a qualified family law lawyer in Broward or Palm Beach County who can answer your pressing questions.