In our last article, we talked about holiday travel and time-sharing issues associated with Covid-19, and the best ways to go about navigating those tricky obstacles during these challenging times. However, for many families who have been through a divorce or child custody case, the matters related to visitation (Florida refers to custody arrangements and visitation as “time-sharing”) and parenting plans can extend well past the holidays. Many circumstances – sickness (not only Covid, but more common illnesses), traffic, car trouble, and inclement weather – can prevent one parent from getting their child to the other in a timely manner and in accordance with time-sharing schedules under an approved parenting plan. And sometimes, often just after the holidays, one parent may simply want to extend their visitation time to spend more time with their child. So, you might ask, “What happens if I keep my children past my approved visitation time?” As is the case most legal issues, the answer is, it depends on the specific variables involved. But rest assured, there are consequences to consider. Here’s what you should know.
Following a Parenting Plan
First things, first. In Florida, all time-sharing arrangements are guided by a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a document approved by Florida courts that governs the custodial agreement between parents. Part of the guidance they provide is setting visitation and time-sharing arrangements, specifically designating how much time, and when each parent will spend time with the child, including during the holidays, weekends, weekdays, during summer, on birthdays, and on other special occasions. It takes into consideration where both parents live, and many other relevant factors. Then, it attempts to be equitable to both parents, while ultimately taking into consideration what is in the best interest of the child.
Parenting plans are best developed amicably between two parents and in recognition that the plan may need to evolve in the future, as the child gets older and/or circumstances change. But sometimes, due to the natural sensitivities that can be associated with dissolutions and child custody cases, including those that might develop following a promising start – problems can arise. This is when family lawyers are often contacted, when one parent doesn’t return their child (or children) at the approved specified time.
What Happens If I am Late Dropping Off My Child to Their Co-Parent?
Once again, it depends … most notably on your relationship with your co-parent. There is no denying that in life, things do not always go as planned. We occasionally get stuck working late, there is an emergency that arises, we forget things. If you have a good relationship with your co-parent, then chances are, when such honest aberrations occur, they will understand. Often, a simple apology will suffice or perhaps an offer to make up the time with them. But if the relationship is not good, and you are wondering if your co-parent can take you to court, have your arrested or deny you access to your child the next time you come to pick them up, the answer is again, “It depends”. How late were you? How frequently does this happen? In most cases, it is rare that you will find yourself in the back of a patrol car headed to jail or the courthouse for being late, but depending on circumstances, it is not impossible.
Parenting Plan and Time-Sharing Enforcement in Florida
Importantly, it is not required for one co-parent to prove that non-compliance of time-sharing be caused by a willful disregard for the parenting plan, but only that the other parent failed to comply without cause.
Although Florida family law courts have multiple options that they can use to enforce the terms of time-sharing under a parenting plan, the most common remedy is to require the parent at fault to offset the time missed; that is, a court will award the parent denied time with an amount equivalent to the time missed.
Other potential actions include:
- Requiring the parent at fault to pay court costs and attorney fees
- Requiring the non-compliant parent to pay costs incurred by the children having frequent, continued contact with the other parent
- Requiring the offending parent to complete a parenting course
- Hold the non-compliant parent in contempt of court (typically reserved for when awarding additional visitation has proven ineffective)
- Modifying the parenting plan
Modifying a parenting plan is usually a Florida court’s last resort, but it is one they will take if it is deemed appropriate, and in the best interest of the child.
It is important for all parents to recognize that it is never wise to try and take enforcement of time-sharing under a parenting plan into their own hands by
becoming non-compliant, themselves (i.e., by failing to follow visitation terms, themselves; withholding alimony or child support payments; etc.). Non-compliance by one parent does not grant reciprocation to the other.
Rather, in all cases where one parent violates the terms of time-sharing under an approved parenting plan or any other terms of it in ways that seem blatant, malicious or just unacceptable, then that parent should contact a good, experienced family lawyer to provide legal counsel for next steps.
If you have concerns that your rights under an approved parenting plan are being violated, then contact one of our Florida family law attorneys at Parra Harris Law. We are deeply experienced in child custody cases and matters concerning time-sharing and can ensure your rights are protected. Call us at (904) 900-1617 or email us at [email protected].