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Changing a Parenting Plan

Last Modified: 10/20/2020

CLSMF provides legal advice and representation to parents or people that need to change or modify the terms of their court-approved Parenting Plan and Parental Responsibility, Child Support, and Alimony. This informational page is for Florida residents who have already filed and completed a divorce with a Parenting Plan.

WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS?

A Parenting Plan is a detailed document that explains how parents will handle certain parenting tasks, including how they will spend time with their children. Parental Responsibility is the legal term for a parent’s right to make decisions about their child. 

Modification of a Parenting Plan and Parental Responsibility may not occur without a showing of a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances. To show a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances, you must show a major change has happened since the entry of the last order. It is typically something that is affecting the child that did not exist before the last order. The court will consider the best interests of the child to determine whether a substantial change in circumstances has occurred to justify a Modification. 

To modify a parenting plan, the court will consider the “Best Interest Factors” in addition to the substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances that lead to the filing of the modification. The Parenting Plan must abide with Florida Statute Section 61.13(3). (Read it in its entirety online here).

The court evaluates the best interests of the child by following the considerations below (paraphrased from the Florida Statute Section 61.13(3) for ease of understanding)

  1. Has each parent proven they are willing and able to encourage and allow a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when the other parent requests changes or adjustments?
  2. How will parental responsibilities be divided after the case and how many parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties such as babysitters, friends, or family members? 
  3. Has each parent proven they are willing and able to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child rather than their own needs or desires? 
  4. How long has the child lived in a safe and comfortable environment and how important will it be for them to continue living in that environment?
  5. What are the locations of each parent and how much travel time will be required for the parenting plan to work, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children? This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.
  6. What is the moral fitness of each parent? 
  7. What is the mental and physical health of each parent?
  8. What is the home, school, and community record of the child?
  9. What are the child’s desires, so long as the court believes them to be intelligent and aware enough to tell the court their desire?
  10. How willing and able has each parent been to stay aware of important factors in the minor child’s life, such as the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things? 
  11. How willing and able has each parent been to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime?
  12. How likely is each parent to communicate with the other parent and keep them up to date on issues and activities regarding the minor child, and how willing are they to cooperate on all major issues when dealing with the child? 
  13. Is there evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought? If the court accepts evidence of abuse or neglect, it must state in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child. 
  14. Is there evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect? 
  15. How were parenting tasks and responsibilities divided before and during the divorce, including any parenting responsibilities that may have been undertaken by third parties, such as babysitters, friends, or family members? 
  16. How willing and able has each parent been to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities? 
  17. How likely is each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse? 
  18. How willing and able is each parent to protect the child from the court case process by not talking about it with them, not sharing documents or electronic media related to it with them, and not making negative comments about the other parent to them? 
  19. What are any specific needs due to the child’s age and development and how willing and able are each parent to meet those needs? 
  20. Are there any other factors that have not been mentioned but could have an impact on a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule? 

When a court case is pending before the court or a final parenting plan is in place, the relocation law applies. Relocation is when a parent moves further than 50 miles away for longer than 60 consecutive days. The relocation law sets the rules that a parent must follow when relocating with the other parent’s agreement and rules to follow without the other parent’s agreement. A parent may not move with the children without following the relocation law. Failure to follow the law can cause a parent to be forced to move back to the area where they used to live, pay the other party’s court costs, and could even cost them their time with the children.

A long distance parenting plan should be developed when a parent is planning to relocate the children’s principal residence. The principal place of residence is the place where the children lived at the time of the last order that established or changed the time-sharing plan, or where the children lived when a pending action was filed.  

Relocation may be done by mutual agreement in a plan detailing the new location and time-sharing using  form 12.950(a) which can be found at https://www.flcourts.org/Resources-Services/Court-Improvement/Family-Courts/Family-Law-Self-Help-Information/Family-Law-Forms.  

If both parents do not agree, the parent seeking relocation must request permission from the court and present a detailed plan for time-sharing.

Using Form 12.905(c), here are some of the elements a relocating parent’s petition should include: 

  • The relocating parent must show relocation is in the best interest of the children.  
  • A description of the location of their intended new address.
  • A mailing address of the intended new residence.
  • A phone number of the intended new residence if known.
  • The date of the intended move or proposed relocation. 

A detailed statement of the specific reasons for the proposed relocation.  For example, if the reason is a new job offer the parent should attach the offer to their petition.  

A detailed time-sharing plan showing how the other parent will have continuous contact with the children. See FL Statute 61.13001 

A court may modify a child support order if a substantial change in circumstances is shownAn example of a substantial change in circumstances might be a change in income. To meet the legal standard, the change in income must be an involuntary decrease in income or an increase in income. If this occurs, then child support might be changed through a modification action. If a parent pays child support but does not exercise time-sharing with their child as awarded by the court, then there could a change in child support.

The court can change an order for temporary, permanent, periodic, durational, or rehabilitative alimony if the judge finds that there has been a substantial change in the circumstances of the party. Lump-sum and bridge-the-gap alimony cannot be modified.

WHAT DO I NEED TO DO?

The Florida Supreme Court has approved forms that can be used to file a modification (change) action on your own. The forms can be found at www.flcourts.org under the self-help section of the site and include detailed instructions to help you with completing and filing the documents.

To file for Modification of a Parenting Plan and Parental Responsibility, you will need to complete and file the following documents (which can be found at https://www.flcourts.org/Resources-Services/Court-Improvement/Family-Courts/Family-Law-Self-Help-Information/Family-Law-Forms):

  1. Supplemental Final Judgment Modifying Parental Responsibility, Visitation, or Parenting Plan/Time-Sharing Schedule and Other Relief, form 12.905(a)
  2. Summons, form 12.910(a)
  3. Family Law Financial Affidavit, form 12.902(b) or 12.902(c)
  4. Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Affidavit, form 12.902(d)
  5. Notice of Social Security Number, form 12.902(j)
  6. Cover Sheet for Family Court Cases, form 12.928
  7. Notice of Related Cases, form 12.900(h)
  8. Application for Determination of Civil Indigent Status. This form is found on the website but does not have a number. You may also obtain a copy from your local clerk but remember to ask for it directly by name.

To file for Modification of child support, you will need to complete and file the following documents (which can be found at https://www.flcourts.org/Resources-Services/Court-Improvement/Family-Courts/Family-Law-Self-Help-Information/Family-Law-Forms):

  1. Supplemental Petition for Modification of Child Support, form 12.905(b)
  2. Summons, form 12.910(a)
  3. Family Law Financial Affidavit, form 12.902(b) or 12.902(c)
  4. Notice of Social Security Number, form 12.902(j)
  5. Cover Sheet for Family Court Cases, form 12.928
  6. Notice of Related Cases, 12.900(h)
  7. Application for Determination of Civil Indigent Status. This form is found on the website but does not have a number. You may also obtain a copy from your local clerk but remember to ask for it directly by name.

To file for Modification of alimony, you will need to complete and file the following documents (which can be found at https://www.flcourts.org/Resources-Services/Court-Improvement/Family-Courts/Family-Law-Self-Help-Information/Family-Law-Forms):

  1. Supplemental Petition for Modification of Alimony, form 12.905(c) 
  2. Summons, form 12.910(a)
  3. Family Law Financial Affidavit, form 12.902(b) or 12.902(c)
  4. Notice of Social Security Number, form 12.902(j)
  5. Cover Sheet for Family Court Cases, form 12.928
  6. Notice of Related Cases, 12.900(h)
  7. Application for Determination of Civil Indigent Status. This form is found on the website but does not have a number. You may also obtain a copy from your local clerk but remember to ask for it directly by name.

You should file the documents listed above in the county where the other party/parent lives or in the county that entered the last order. The clerk will complete the Summons with an official seal. The Summons must be served to the other party. 

Service is the process of sending court documents to the other party — delivered by a process server or a sheriff. This legal notification process informs the other party that the case was filed and provides them the opportunity to respond to the court. 

After you have filed the Modification action, the clerk may help you by sending the documents to the local sheriff for service to the other party. If the clerk sends the court documents to the sheriff, then the sheriff will take the papers to the other party so they know about the case. If the clerk does not forward the documents on your behalf, you will need to send a copy of each document that you filed to the sheriff in the county where the other parent lives so the sheriff can complete the service process.

Upon receiving the documents, the other parent has 20 days to file a written response with the court and mail you a copy. If the other party does not file a written response, the clerk may enter a Clerk’s Default against them. You may also file a Motion for Default. A motion is a written request to the court to make a decision about a case. 

If the other party never participates in the case, the court will likely grant your Motion for Default and you will likely receive everything you have requested in your petition. Even if the other party has a default entered against them, they may still appear before the court. The court will want to make sure it knows what is in a child’s best interest before it enters an order. So, while the case is still open, the other party can present evidence about what is in the child’s best interest. 

On the other hand, if the other party does file a written response, they will file an Answer, which might also include a Counterpetition. The other party is not required to file a Counterpetition, only an Answer. A Counterpetition is the other party’s request from the court. You are required to respond to a Counterpetition by filing an Answer within 20 days. You may answer the Counterpetition with form Answer to Counterpetition, form 12.903(d), which can be found online at https://www.flcourts.org/Resources-Services/Court-Improvement/Family-Courts/Family-Law-Self-Help-Information/Family-Law-Forms.

Forty-five days after service on the responding parent, each party is required to exchange certain financial documents, such as pay stubs and tax returns. The documents that the parents might need to exchange are the documents listed on the Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure, form 12.932. Parents do not file their documents with the court; they give them to the other parent. If a person does not have a required document on the list because it is not something they have ever had, then there will be nothing to give the other party. If a document on the list is not in that person’s possession but is something they can get, such as a bank statement, the person needs to get the document and give to the other party. The form is the only document filed with the court. Complete the form by placing a check next to the item provided to the other parent and sign the form under oath before a notary or a clerk. The Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure can be found at https://www.flcourts.org/Resources-Services/Court-Improvement/Family-Courts/Family-Law-Self-Help-Information/Family-Law-Forms.

Once each party has filed their initial documents as discussed above, the court may schedule a Case Management Conference. A Case Management Conference is a hearing set by a judge to make sure the case moves forward. The Case Management Conference is typically not a time for the court to receive evidence from the parties. The court will likely check to see if the necessary documents are in the file from each party andt may schedule Mediation.  

In most family law cases, the court will require Mediation. Mediation is a process where the parties sit down with a neutral third party to work on resolving their case without the judge. The parties to a case may resolve all issues, some of their issues, or none of their issues at Mediation. Issues not resolved at Mediation will be dealt with by the court at a final hearing or trial.

If the other party serves you with a Supplemental Petition, you may file an Answer only by using Answer to Supplemental Petition, form 12.903(e). You must file the Answer within 20 days to avoid having a default entered against you. If the clerk enters a default against you, you may lose your right to participate in certain aspects of the case and may owe extra amounts of support. However, the court will hear from a party who has been defaulted regarding what is in the best interest of a child. You must file your Answer with the same court where the other party filed the Supplemental Petition and mail the other party a copy of your Answer. The Answer to Supplemental Petition form can be found at https://www.flcourts.org/Resources-Services/Court-Improvement/Family-Courts/Family-Law-Self-Help-Information/Family-Law-Forms)

WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE TAKING ACTION?

When you file a Modification action, you are not guaranteed to receive what you have requested. Your request could result in a new time-sharing schedule that you do not like. The child support and alimony that you receive could be reduced. Your child support payment could increase. It is best to speak to an attorney to determine whether you can achieve the result you are seeking. 

If you file a Modification action as a result of a decrease in your income, keep making the child support and/or alimony payments required under your current order. The existing order remains in effect unless and until the court issues a new order. Pay as much as you can and pay it in the manner specified by the order. Failure to make your best effort to pay will hurt your argument that new circumstances require a new child support and/or alimony amount and will cause unpaid payments to pile up.

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