Parenting Plans and Violations of the Time Sharing Schedule
One of the hardest decisions in most divorce cases is deciding how to formulate and compromise on child custody and parenting plan issues. Many parents, especially those who provide the bulk of childcare, are understandably reluctant to give the other spouse more time with their child than absolutely necessary, but ultimately come to realize that time with both parents is important to the child’s wellbeing. Commonly, some of this adversity is related to the tension created by the divorce itself, and the desire not to lose too much time with their child. However, all parenting plans must include a time-sharing schedule that lays out when the child will stay with each parent and the responsibilities each parent will have for the child’s upbringing. This schedule is intended to provide stability to the child and to form a binding agreement on the parents so they cannot arbitrarily change the terms. Because abiding by the terms of the time-sharing schedule is critical to a parent’s ability to exercise their parental rights, Florida law grants judges a number of options to compel compliance if there a credible risk of violation by either parent. A recent story in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer discussed a father living in Florida who failed to return his children to their mother by the agreed upon date. The father alleged the children were abused while in the mother’s custody, but did not report his suspicions to police while the children were in his custody. It is important for parents to understand the potential consequences of not complying with a parenting plan, and as such, the possible penalties for violating one will be discussed below.
The aim of the law in Florida related to violations of parenting plans is to impose restrictions on the parent at risk of violation so he/she cannot follow through with any unauthorized plans. These restrictions primarily relate to travel and finances, but can also extend to visitation with the child.
In order to initiate this process, the parent who fears a violation of the parenting plan must file a petition in court and present sufficient evidence that the other parent plans to remove the child from the state or country or conceal the child’s whereabouts. The first thing a court can do when it receives credible information about a parent’s plan to flee with a child is to impose travel restrictions. These restrictions can require the parent at risk of violation to do any of the following:
- surrender the child’s passport;
- require a court order or notarized written permission from both parents before removing the child from the state or country;
- if travel is planned, provide the other parent with copies of the itinerary, all travel documents, and addresses and phone numbers for locations where the child will be staying;
- prohibit the parent from removing the child from school and/or childcare; or
- prohibit the parent from approaching the child outside of designated, pre-arranged locations and times.
Bonds or Other Security
In addition to travel restrictions, the court can demand the parent post a bond or other security to compel compliance with the parenting plan. Before a court can impose this financial burden, it must first look at a long list of factors to assess whether the situation warrants ordering the parent to put up financial resources, and then decide if parent has the resources to put up the requested amount. Some of the factors the court considers include:
- the parent previously violated or threatened to violate the parenting plan;
- whether the parent has strong family and/or financial ties to Florida;
- whether the parent took steps that suggest a plan to leave, such as quitting his/her job or closing financial accounts;
- the parent has a criminal record;
- the parent had an application for U.S. citizenship denied; and
- the parent is likely to take the child to a country that does not follow and/or recognize international law on child kidnapping.
If you feel your former spouse or partner is planning to leave the area with your child in violation of your parenting plan, talk to a family law attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can use all the legal mechanisms available to block the parent’s departure with child, which is much easier than trying to find locate and retrieve a child after removal. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A. is ready to help you with all your family law issues. Contact us for a free consultation.