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Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

| Dec 18, 2020 | Child Custody, Parental responsibility |

What to do in Florida if you’re being ignored as a co-parent

If you are the divorced or unmarried parent of a minor child, there is a high chance that you share with the other parent the responsibility to make important life decisions for your child together. Despite whatever history you have together and the nature of your current relationship, you both are expected to co-parent for the welfare of your child.

So what can you do if the other parent refuses to work with you to make the best joint decisions on behalf of your child?

Florida heavily favors shared parental responsibility

Florida statute defines shared parental responsibility as a “court-ordered relationship in which both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child and in which both parents confer with each other so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly.”

When a court makes custodial decisions – either when reviewing an agreed-upon parenting plan or creating a plan for parents who cannot negotiate an agreement – Florida statute requires that the judge order shared parental responsibility unless it would be “detrimental” to the child. Parents with shared responsibility decide together major decisions concerning the child’s health care, education, activities and “any other responsibilities that the court finds unique to a particular family” like religious matters.

The court may consider the parents’ preferences for areas of responsibility and assign ultimate responsibility for specific decisions to one or the other parent or split types of responsibilities between the parents. They could even give power over one area of decision making to one parent but require consultation with the other first. The judge must assign decision-making powers in the child’s best interest.

Alternatively, if it is in the child’s best interest, the judge must order sole parental responsibility for decision making to one parent. With such a strong preference for joint decision-making responsibility in the law, many divorced and unmarried parents in Florida are trying to work out their responsibilities together.

What if the other parent won’t work with you?

Is your ex making decisions without your input that you are supposed to make together? Or are they making decisions about things over which you have ultimate decision-making power? Are they not consulting with you when they are supposed to? The court expects both of you to follow the court order since the judge found co-parenting to be in your child’s best interest.

If you cannot work through these issues informally, you could ask the court to clarify, enforce or modify the order for shared parental responsibility:

  • Clarification: You may ask the court to clarify or interpret the court order, so the other parent understands their legal responsibility to work with you.
  • Enforcement: You may also petition the court to enforce the order for shared parental responsibility and in an extreme case of parental noncompliance, contempt of court proceedings may be appropriate.
  • Modification: The court may modify a parenting plan if there has been a “substantial, material and unanticipated change of [factual] circumstances” and that an amended parenting plan would be in the child’s best interests.

The case of O’Brien v. Crumley suggests a potential basis on which to request modification of the parental responsibility assignments. The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal held that the mother’s history of not communicating with the father even after many requests supported giving sole decision-making responsibility to the father.

If you are experiencing noncooperation from the other parent in making decisions for your child, a Florida lawyer can evaluate your potential legal remedies.

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The Law Office of Forrest & Forrest, PLLC 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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