A legal separation or divorce can be incredibly taxing on both individuals. There are waves of aggressive emotions, unexpected stressful situations, and sometimes even financial hardship. All of these factors become even more overwhelming when there are children involved. No matter their ages, children should be considered first when it comes to making decisions for the family. Of course, it can be hard to prioritize or make arrangements when you’re unfamiliar with the rules and regulations set by the state in cases of divorce or visitation rights. These guidelines can be confusing and the process can become frustrating when you’re dealing with the emotional burden of a separation at the same time. However, the more you know about these procedures, the easier it can be for you to form a plan. Below are five important pieces of advice that can help guide you through the process of establishing visitation rights in the state of Florida.

State of Florida Terminology

First and foremost, it’s important to take note that the state of Florida does not use the terms “custody” or “visitation” anymore. Judges, lawyers, and mediators now refer to it as “time-sharing” and “co-parenting”. It’s always helpful to use your state’s proper terminology when creating official documents, appearing in a courtroom, or negotiating with lawyers or mediators. This helps the courts to know that you’ve done your homework and you’re on top of the current guidelines and procedures.

Awareness of Your Words with Your Children

Sometimes parents have a hard time with this new terminology, or with the language, they use during a divorce. This may seem like silly semantics. Or, you may feel that the words you use to describe these visitations don’t matter. However, the language you use, especially during a divorce, can carry more weight than you think. When children hear words like “custody battle” from family members they can start to associate conflict with these terms, even if it doesn’t exist. There’s a good chance they’ve heard these terms used on TV or in films and they can draw their own conclusions about the situation. It’s very important to be aware of the way you speak with your ex, about your ex, or about parental rights in front of your children. Using more neutral and nonpartisan language can help set a comforting tone during this stressful time in their lives. Plus, any harsh words exchanged can possibly be used against you in later proceedings.

Choose a Negotiating Style

Every single decision that the courts make will be based on your child’s best interest. With that in mind, the state of Florida allows you to design your own visitation schedule that works for everyone in the family. However, more often than not, this is easier said than done. There are dozens of different scenarios of divorce that can dictate how your visitation rights will be divided. If you and your ex can negotiate and formulate this type of schedule together, then you’re ahead of the game. This is always the best case scenario when it comes to time-sharing. Unfortunately, when parents can’t compromise or negotiate on time-sharing, the courts will have to decide for them. This can leave a bitter taste in a mother’s or father’s mouth when it comes to a third party deciding how and when they will see their own children. It’s always better if you can place conflict aside and do your very best to communicate clearly, coordinate peacefully, and compromise when necessary. If you and your ex are not yet on speaking terms and you need time to be able to cooperate, your best bet is to contact a lawyer or mediator who can negotiate on your behalf.

Formulating a Parental Agreement

As stated above, Florida law allows parents to create their own time-sharing schedule with their children’s best interest in mind. If you and your ex have the ability to peacefully sit down and devise a co-parenting plan, there are a lot of different variables to consider before you put this down on paper and officially present it to the courts. You need to consider the age and developmental stage of your child. You need to discuss who will handle their doctor’s appointments, extracurricular activities, summer vacation plans, holiday schedules, and any extension of rights to other family members.

Revisions of Parental Agreements

It may seem almost impossible to spend one afternoon devising a co-parenting schedule that will stick over time, and that’s because it is. Life happens! What may appear to be in your child’s best interest one day, might seem inadequate the next. Your children will grow and develop in different ways. They may change schools. One parent might move to another city. There are endless variables that can affect the parental agreement. These changes are completely normal and acceptable in the courts. However, sometimes officially implementing these adjustments on paper can be confusing. It’s always best to get support from your lawyer if you need to modify a parental agreement.
By: Tina Lewert

Attorney Tina L. Lewert is an experienced Florida Board Certified Marital and Family Law Specialist who works with clients to resolve family law issues including child custody, visitation, and parenting issues, and child support, alimony, and marital agreements. Ms. Lewert earned her undergraduate degree at Florida Atlantic University and her J.D. from the Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center in Fort Lauderdale.