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Do you need to change your child visitation agreement?

Changing your child visitation agreement could be necessary if you or your spouse's life circumstances evolve over time. Imagine you have a new job and work schedule that make your current weekend visitation schedule unworkable. Alternatively, imagine you become ill and can't visit your child often anymore. Perhaps your child's circumstances change, and this requires an adjustment to the visitation schedule.

In many cases, the other parent of the child will agree that a change is necessary and assist you in finding a workable solution. In other cases, if the other parent disagrees with your request for modification, you might have to appeal to a Florida family law court to approve the change. When filing an application to modify your child visitation orders like this, you will need to prove the following requirements to gain the court's approval:

  • There has been a substantial change in circumstances that stands to significantly affect the relationship between the parent and child and the ability to carry out visits.
  • The change in circumstances was unanticipated at the time the initial visitation orders were created.
  • Altering the child visitation agreement in the way that the parent wants is in the best interests of the child.

Quality of life in marriage, credit-card debt and child support

Just like some are content with one beer and others are not, some can spend responsibly and others are swipe-happy with their credit cards. If you're a responsible spender, and you're married to a swipe-happy person, you may be suffering financially because of it. In fact, many decide to bring their marriages to a close because of their spouses' out-of-control spending habits. When one spouse racks up large credit card bills, however, the other spouse might might wonder how will this debt will be divided in divorce and will the false quality of life made possible by the debt affect child support amounts?

The majority of debts and assets that spouses accumulate during their marriages will be a part of the marital estate and divisible. However, if one spouse is clearly out of control with his or her debt accumulation habits – and especially if that debt wasn't used to benefit the family – a family law court may side with the more fiscally responsible spouse when divvying up that debt. In other words, the swipe-happy spouse may have to keep the irresponsibly accumulated debt in his or her name during the asset division process.

How can I ensure my ex is involved in my child's schooling?

In nearly every kind of legal proceeding, foresight is everything, and child custody negotiations aren't any different -- especially when you're trying to negotiate a workable coparenting agreement with the other parent of your child. When parents have foresight, and the benefit of legal knowledge and experience, they can include specific language in their parenting plans that will help them circumnavigate potential problems later down the road.

Here are two little nuggets of language, for example, that you may want to include your parenting plan regarding education and extracurricular activities as it will help ensure that full involvement of the other parent in your child's schooling:

  • Both parents agree to be present for and participate in the school activities of the child. These activities might include sports, open houses, parent-teacher activities and other important school events.
  • The parents are responsible for keeping themselves independently informed of all school activities pertaining to the child.
  • The parents agree to notify one another if they drop off or pick up the child late at school, remove the child early from school or if the child won't be going to school on a particular day.
  • The parents agree to require the child to go to school unless there is a medical reason for not attending or unless both parents agree that the child won't attend that day.
  • The parents agree to set aside time to help the child with his or her studies, complete her homework and offer other assistance regarding schoolwork and studies.

What does it take to establish paternity?

A hundred years ago, when a woman had a child out of wedlock, there wasn't any way for the courts to determine who the father was. They could look at the physical characteristics of the child and take a guess, but beyond hunches and guesswork, there was no way to know for sure. These days, if a child is born to unmarried parents, legal avenues exist through which the mother can establish paternity for the purpose of collecting child support. The biological father can also step forward to establish paternity for the purpose of gaining visitation rights.

Here's what it takes to establish paternity:

Do you need to factor third-party time into your parenting plan?

You and your ex will be the ones who spend the most time with your children. There's no doubt about that. As such, the primary purpose of your parenting plan is to decide how you and your ex will divide the time with your kids between one another. An important way to ensure this division is fair involves taking into account third-party time.

Third-party time refers to the time during the week when your child isn't with you or your ex. This could be the time your child spends in school, at day care or with a grandparent or aunt who regularly takes care of the child.

When is joint child custody a bad idea?

If you ask a child psychologist, he or she will probably tell you that joint child custody is preferred. Child psychologists like the idea of children spending half their time with you and half their time with the other parent because it gives them as much time as possible with both parents -- and this has a positive effect on their growth and development. At the same time, however, psychologists will also agree that a 50-50 custody split is not appropriate in all situations.

Here are a few circumstances where a 50-50 split is not going to work:

  • One of the parents works a strange schedule: Imagine you are a firefighter or an emergency room nurse. You might have to work 24-hour shifts, or three days on and four days off. Your schedule might also be erratic and unpredictable with certain days when you're on call. If your work schedule is anything but normal, you might have a hard time navigating a steady, predictable 50-50 child custody arrangement. It could, for example, be better for you to schedule your parenting time each week as you go and you might have to spend a little less time with your kids.
  • The parents can't agree on anything and they're constantly fighting: When two parents cannot agree, it's going to be very difficult for them to be co-parents together. To avoid constant fighting and stress for the children, judges might not allow two constantly-fighting parents to share child custody.

Provisions you might want to put in your parenting plan

There's no way to predict what will happen in your post-divorce life. However, if you're a parent, you will need to do your best to look into the future and prepare for every contingency. This is the task that's asked of parents when they set out to draft a parenting plan that supports their needs and protects them and their children from the threat of disagreements later down the line.

By reviewing parenting plan examples, and perusing sample language that parents commonly include in these documents, parents can create a plan that accommodates their needs. Here are several less-than-obvious things parents may want to include:

  • The parents agree to offer one another duplicates of all videos, pictures and other copyable and shareable items that pertain to their children. When a parent wants duplicates like this, he or she must pay for any reasonable expenses required to obtain the copies. If copying services are required, the requesting parent agrees to select a service provider within convenient distance.
  • The parents will not let the child have piercings, tattoos or cosmetic surgical procedures unless both parents agree. The parents also agree to consult one another about issues relating to the child's dress code should concerns arise.
  • The parents agree to carry out one another's disciplinary measures from house to house. Should a serious disciplinary or behavioral issue arise, the parents will contact one another to discuss a united response to the issue.

How will you divvy up the holidays with your kids?

Most families have established various traditions they enjoy with their children during the holidays. Whether it's decorating the Christmas tree, drinking hot coco while singing a Thanksgiving hymn, or hunting for Easter eggs in the backyard, some of these holiday traditions will take on a different flavor when mom and dad are living apart. There's also the fact that the children will probably only get to spend each holiday with one parent at a time.

Because both parents will probably want to spend every holiday with their kids, the parents will have to arrive at some kind of agreement that involves splitting up the holidays. Here are a few ideas that might work for you and your family in this regard:

  • Alternating holidays: If you spent Thanksgiving with your kids this year, next year, they'll spend it with the other parent. Parents often enjoy taking turns with the holidays like this.
  • Divide each holiday fifty-fifty: If the parents live close enough to one another, it may be an easy enough solution to have the children spend half the day with one parent and half the day with the other parent.
  • Duplicate the holidays: The parents might end up choosing another day when they'll celebrate Thanksgiving again. In these cases, the children will spend one Thanksgiving with one parent and another Thanksgiving with the other parent.
  • Assigned holidays: Imagine your favorite holiday is Thanksgiving and your spouse's favorite is Christmas. It may be easy enough to simply assign each of these holidays to each other permanently.

A brief history of child custody in the United States

In the olden days of English common law, the father automatically kept custody of his children in the case of a child custody disagreement. Fathers held the legal right to have physical custody of their children, including the earnings and labor of their children. The courts of the time believed fathers should retain this right because the fathers -- as the financial rulers of their households -- paid to educate, train and support their children.

Colonial American held the same view as old England, initially, that fathers should keep their children. Tragically, they did not have any enforceable parental rights. The courts and the law continued to decide cases like this into the 1800s, but the 1848 Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls marked the first visible step toward changing this tradition. At the convention, participants made the automatic custody rule for fathers one of their chief complaints.

Child custody: Who's the primary caretaker?

If you're in the throes of a child custody dispute, you probably know that courts give more weight to the parent considered to be the "primary caretaker." If, for example, there's a disagreement about who the children should live with, the judge will probably rule that they should live with the primary caretakers.

Sometimes, one parent is clearly the primary caretaker and other times both parents are. Here are several things that courts will look at when making this determination regarding the care of the child while the parents were together:

  • Did the parent help the children with grooming, dressing and bathing?
  • Did the parent participate in meal preparation and planning?
  • Did the parent do laundry for the child or go out to purchase clothing?
  • Did the parent take the child to the doctor and make health care decisions?
  • Was the parent involved in extracurricular activities?
  • Did the parent help teach the child math, writing and reading?
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