Sometimes the plans we made for our children just don’t work out and families find themselves overwhelmed in the courts. When developing a parenting plan or time-sharing plan, Florida’s statutory best interest factors are used to make a plan that will best suit the needs of the child. While there are a multitude of factors, establishing and encouraging a significant parent-child relationship is weighed very heavily by the courts.
THE CHILD’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE OTHER PARENT/CO-PARENT
Strong parent-child relationships are essential for children. Many studies have shown Kids who have a healthy, secure, affectionate attachment to their parents are more likely to develop good relationships with others in their lives, including when they become adults. A secure parent-child relationship also helps children regulate their emotions, manage stress, and contributes to overall development.
Ideally, each parent will have a strong affectional and attachment bond with the child. Having a strong parent-child bond means the contact is: persistent, enduring, linked to a specific person, emotionally significant, and within proximity to or contact with the significant person, avoiding any distress from involuntary separation. Having a secure and comforting relationship is the defining feature in the parent child bond of attachment.
WHAT FACILITATING A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOUR CHILD AND YOUR CO-PARENT MEANS TO YOU
Here is the language from the Florida Statutes about what courts are to consider:
“The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.”
Supporting a good relationship with the other parent doesn’t mean you need to allow the other parent unlimited time with your child. It does mean that you should be willing to abide by the time-sharing schedule the court has ordered, so that your child will have the time and opportunity to develop their relationship with the other parent. While you should respect the schedule, you should also be willing to be flexible when that is warranted; if the other parent gets called in to work on a night they were due to spend with the child, a reasonable co-parent might agree to swap nights if possible.
The idea is for the child to get to spend enough time with each parent that the bond between them is strengthened. While a regular schedule promotes this, it’s not necessary to be rigid about observing the schedule. Keep in mind that if you have a court-ordered parenting plan, you may deviate from the plan so long as both parents agree. If you believe the other parent is taking advantage of your willingness to be reasonable, document those events so you can recall them later if you need to address time-sharing issues in court.
The words “capacity and disposition” translate to “able and willing,” and that’s what it all boils down to. Are you able and willing to put your child’s needs above your own feelings about the other parent? Are you able and willing to do what the court has ordered rather than what you might prefer?
ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
Children are observant and your attitude is important. The statute refers to “encouraging” a close relationship. Abiding by a time-sharing schedule is important, but if you do so bitterly, disparaging the other parent or making your child feel guilty for leaving you, or intentionally disrupting the other parent’s timesharing – the Court will surely hear about it.
Here are a few ways you can improve the parent-child relationship:
- Show affection (hugs, smiles, interaction)
- Say “I love you” or use words of affirmation
- Set boundaries, rules, and consequences that your child understands
- Listen to your child when they’re expressing their feelings
- Play together – put away the phone or turn off the TV and just focus on your child for that time.
- Eat meals together
- Create a routine
- Have special one-on-one time and celebrate your child’s achievements
SAFETY IS PARAMOUNT
What if you feel like your child is in genuine danger when they are in the other parent’s care—say, if the other parent is an active alcoholic and has been known to drive under the influence? The answer is that facilitating a close parent-child relationship looks different in different circumstances. If a child is not safe with a parent, it may not be possible for the child to spend unsupervised time with them, but there may be other ways to preserve the relationship, such as supervised visits and regular phone calls. Your child’s safety is paramount, and if you think your child is not safe with your existing time-sharing order, you must address that issue in court.
Michel Watson Law offers support and guidance to parents developing and enforcing parenting plans. Contact us and let us know how we can help you!
[ml2]Ainsworth, M.D.S., Attachments Beyond Infancy , American Psychologist 709–716 (1989).
[ml3]J. Cassidy, The Nature of the Child’s Ties , Handbook of Attachment 3–20 ( J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaver eds., 1999).