“Don’t eat that!”

When one parent wants to send (or not send) snacks to school, who prevails?

The answer to this question is not as easy as it would suggest. It depends on a few things. Does the parenting plan incorporated into the final divorce order deal with the issue? Is it of elevated importance to the child’s welfare – do they require frequent or specific snacks because of a medical issue?

What does the parenting plan say, if anything?

When a couple divorces, they often negotiate a parenting plan that provides in detail the schedules and rules agreed to by the parties as concerns parental responsibility and time sharing. In other words, who can make major decisions and what terms do they agree to observe when the kids are with them.

If snacks or other food decisions are important, the parties can agree to special provisions in the parenting plan. If they cannot agree, the judge in the divorce will finalize and approve the parenting plan considering the evidence presented in court and proposals submitted by the parties.

The children’s best interest guides the judge in deciding what content in a parenting plan to approve. Snacks might rise to the level of the child’s best interests if there are health reasons to restrict whether a parent sends snacks to school or what those snacks should or should not be.

Silent parenting plan

Realistically, if there are no food restrictions agreed to or ordered in the parenting plan and there are no medical reasons to guide food choices, each parent can make reasonable food offerings when the children are in their care during parenting time. For example, one parent may prefer only organic snacks, but if that is not a requirement of the parenting plan or in a doctor’s order, the other parent can probably send a conventional snack.

Can a parent go back to court to ask for a parenting-plan update?

However, if there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the divorce, a parent can go back to court to ask for amendments to the parenting plan. For example, if since the divorce a child has developed an eating disorder or severe allergy to a particular food, a substantial change in circumstances may justify a parenting-plan modification to control snacking.

Parental decision-making responsibility

Another aspect of Florida family law that could come into play here is the concept of parental decision-making responsibility. The parties can agree in divorce – or the judge will decide – whether to give the responsibility for decisions about the child’s health care to one parent alone or to them jointly.

If snacks rise to the level of a medical issue, parents with joint responsibility over the child’s health care are expected to decide together on the best way to handle the health issue. If one has sole medical decision-making power, that parent will need to decide. If that parent is having trouble with the other parent adhering to a medical decision concerning snacks, the parent with decision-making power can go back to court to ask for enforcement of the parenting plan that gives the authority solely to that parent to decide.

The issue of controlling snacks while under the care of the other parent is not an easy or clear one under Florida law, but hinges on issues of the child’s best interests, medical decision-making power and discretion to provide reasonable care while the child is in a parent’s control. When a dispute arises about what food a parent can offer a child during their parenting time, an attorney can answer questions about potential legal remedies.

 

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  • The Law Office of Daniel E. Forrest represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.
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