June 22, 2022
Florida has a policy that favors joint custody. Florida’s child custody laws favor children having frequent contact with both parents after a divorce. As a result, Florida requires courts to order shared parental responsibility for children with limited exceptions.
The odds are good that the judge in your case will order a parenting plan where you share both parental responsibility and time with your children. Joint custody means you must find a way to co-parent your children with your ex-spouse in a way that will not disrupt their physical, emotional, or mental well-being.
Read on for some suggestions about how to co-parent after a divorce.
The Meaning of Joint Custody
Joint custody has some specific meanings to Florida judges.
Formerly referred to as physical custody, time-sharing refers to a child’s living arrangements. Instead of referring to one parent as the “custodial parent” and the other parent as having “visitation rights,” Florida courts now refer to both parents as having “parenting time.”
Parenting time defines when a child will live with each parent. Florida does not have a presumption in favor of equal amounts of time. It only presumes both parents have the right to some time with the children.
When a judge orders joint time-sharing, you must make arrangements with your ex-spouse to implement the judge’s order. If you do not understand the terms of the judge’s order, your divorce attorney can explain them to you.
Parental responsibility used to be called legal custody. Parental responsibility has two parts. First, parents have the right to participate in decisions affecting their child’s life. Parental responsibility includes decisions involving residence, healthcare, education, religion, and culture.
Second, parents have the right to access information about the child. Parents can get copies of school, medical, and dental records.
When a judge orders joint parental responsibility, you need to involve the other parent in all decisions affecting the child. You must also share information with the other parent relevant to making those decisions.
Suggestions for How to Coparent After a Divorce
Co-parenting requires you to accept your ex-spouse’s legitimate interest in being involved in your child’s life. Actions that alienate your child from your ex-spouse could ultimately backfire on you.
Florida courts can use parental alienation as grounds to modify a custody arrangement against the alienating parent.
Avoid exposing your child to any of the following regarding the other parent:
- Unjust criticism
- Falsehoods about them
- Blaming them for the divorce
- Undermining their parenting style
- Forcing the child to choose you over them
- Persuading the child to avoid seeing them
- Actions to keep the child from them
Sometimes little things slip out. But a concerted campaign to drive a wedge between your child and your ex-spouse will expose you to accusations of parental alienation and emotional child abuse from your ex-spouse’s divorce lawyer.
If a judge agrees with your ex-spouse that you have tried to alienate your child from them, you could lose your parenting time and may even lose your parental responsibility.
Some other suggestions for co-parenting after a divorce include:
Talk to Your Divorce Attorney About Your Parenting Plan
Review the parenting plan with your divorce lawyer when the judge issues the final judgment in your divorce. Understand what you must do to comply with the judge’s order. Also, understand the process for addressing non-compliance by your ex-spouse.
Ask your divorce attorney any questions as you and your ex-spouse implement the parenting plan.
You may find some unworkable parts of the parenting plan that you and your ex-spouse agree need modifying. Your lawyer will know whether you need a judge to modify the plan or if you can simply agree to an alternate arrangement with your ex-spouse.
Help Your Children Understand What Is Happening
Coparenting does not just disrupt your life. It will also disrupt your children’s lives. And just as you need guidance and reassurance about co-parenting, your children will also need guidance and reassurance.
Communicate openly with your children and answer their questions honestly. Explain that neither parent has abandoned them. And explain what the new arrangement will look like.
Encourage your children to raise any fears or concerns about the arrangement. Address them fully, including talking to your ex-spouse about adjusting your arrangements to accommodate your child’s fears.
For example, if your child feels like you both need to be at the child’s weekend soccer games, arrange with your ex-spouse to attend, even if that technically falls within their parenting time.
Coparent as a Team
Conflicts will arise. Unless you simply cannot resolve the problem, you will need to address them with your ex-spouse without running back to the divorce lawyer every time.
Teamwork will come easier if you and your ex-spouse can:
- Set aside anger and hurt feelings from the marriage and divorce
- Communicate openly about your children
- Compromise to address the needs of the parents and children
- Try to set consistent boundaries for your children
- Respect differences in each other’s household rules
As you work together, you may find that fewer disputes arise because you have set the groundwork for a system that works for everyone.
Work to Smooth Transitions
Unfortunately, in almost all cases, shared parenting time means transitions between households. Your child might enjoy the adventure of shifting from one household to another. But many other children find the transition from one home to another jarring.
If your child has difficulty transitioning between households, find ways to ease the move.
Some suggestions include:
- Help your child plan ahead for the transition
- Don’t rush your child’s greeting or farewell process; let them take their time
- Establish a routine for the transition
- Give your child time to decompress after the transition
Above all else, work on your acceptance of the transition. If you make the transition difficult, your child will pick up on your negative feelings and could develop similar feelings.
Benefits of Coparenting After a Divorce
Successful co-parenting benefits you. Stress can lead to problems throughout your life, including your health, work, and emotional well-being.
It also benefits your child. Children of divorce must deal with many complex feelings. Parents who can work together will ease some of your child’s concerns.
Contact a family lawyer for a consultation to understand how co-parenting may look in your divorce.