When a couple in our state has one or minor children and then decide to end their marriage, they must arrange adequate and convenient times for each parent to spend time with the child. This is a serious and often complicated issue. Fortunately, Florida law provides very clear guidelines for visitation by the non-custodial parent.

Our state places the initial burden for determining a visitation schedule on the parents. Each couple is required to draft and submit to the court a joint plan for how they will participate in the child’s care after the divorce becomes final and how they will spend time with the child. If the parents cannot agree on a plan, the court will draft and enforce its own plan. This is called visitation “time-sharing,” but the concept is easy to understand: the time-sharing plan specifies the time that the child will spend with each parent.

Each parent is entitled to equal time with the child, but parents can vary this rule, if doing so furthers the child’s best interests. The statute enumerates the factors that must be considered in setting or modifying a time-sharing schedule, including the demonstrated capacity of each parent to provide a frequent and continuing parent-child relationship, each parent’s demonstrated capacity to put the child’s interests ahead of his or her own, the length of time that the child has lived in a stable environment and the moral fitness of the parents.

If circumstances change for either or both parents and if such change affects the ability of the parents to fulfill the time-sharing plan, the court has discretion to hear a request for modification and enter an order if doing so promotes the best interests of the child. If a parent who is party to a valid time-sharing plan violates the terms of the plan, the court has the power to enforce significant sanctions on the defaulting parent.