Child custody or time-sharing arrangements that make sense at the moment of divorce can lose their luster over the years. Circumstances may change and unexpected developments can occur. Although small or temporary adjustments to the time-sharing agreement — such as a swap of vacation days — can be agreed upon by the parents without court involvement, significant changes need to be brought to the court for entry of a modification order.
Under Florida statute, a time-sharing agreement may be modified only if the parent seeking the change shows that a “substantial, material and unanticipated change in circumstances” has occurred and that the change is in the best interests of the child. A substantial, material and unanticipated change is one that varies greatly from the existing time-sharing agreement and is long-lasting or permanent.
Examples of changes that have been determined to be substantial and material are:
The change in circumstances must also be unanticipated. It cannot be a foreseeable event like the child starting kindergarten. Courts do not want to deal with changes that the parents should have anticipated and provided for in the original time-sharing arrangement.
Any change to the time-sharing plan also must be in the best interest of the child, which means that it must be designed to further the child’s overall health and welfare. When a request for modification comes before a judge, both parents have an opportunity to present evidence that the change is or is not in the best interest of the child. When children are considered mature enough to voice their preferences, the court will take their preferences into account. Depending on the circumstances, judges may accept signed statements by the children, appoint an attorney to represent the children’s interests or order a professional custody evaluation that includes interviews with the children.
Whether you are entering into an initial custody or time-sharing arrangement or trying to obtain a change to an existing arrangement, an experienced family lawyer can advise you on how Florida law applies in your case.
The attorneys of Weiner & Weiss in Boca Raton are dedicated to helping parents navigate court proceedings involving child custody and time-sharing issues. Call us today at 561-391-1333 or contact us online to discuss your situation.
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