Can I change my custody agreement in Florida?
In Florida custody agreements, or Orders, are called parenting plans. Parenting plans outline where the child will spend time and who will make the decisions for the child. These two concepts, timesharing and decision making, make up the Florida version of custody (even though we do not use that word). Parenting plans can be established by a written agreement, which is then ratified by a Court Order, or can be entered by the Judge without the agreement of the parties. Either way, the outcome is the same, a Parenting Plan which is ratified by the Court and becomes a Court Order.
Once there is a Court Order, the only way to change that Order is with a new Order. Then can be done by submitting a new agreement signed by the Parties to the Court for the Court to ratify, or by filing a Petition for Modification of Parenting Plan and going in front of a Judge for the Judge to enter an new Court Order.
Modifying a Parenting Plan
In Order for the Court to change the parenting plan, without an agreement between the parties, you must first prove to the Court that there has been a material, unanticipated, permanent and material change in circumstances since the entry of the prior parenting plan. So, you must first have a very good reason to modify the parenting plan. Once you have shown the Court that this exists, the Court will then, and only then, be able to decide what new agreement or new terms would be in the child's best interest.
Deciding what is in the child's best interest takes into consideration many factors. Factors such as which parent is most willing to facilitate a relationship with the other parent, which parent is the most involved with the child's school or medical care, what the parents work hours are, domestic violence, both parent's living situations, etc. There is a presumption in Florida that parents will both have significant access to the child and will parent nearly equal amounts of time, if not equal. However, once a parenting plan is in place, this is no longer the case. Meaning, you do not exactly start fresh once you have proved that there has been a change in the circumstances.
Modifying a parenting plan is not easy and should not be done without the assistance of an attorney as there are many legal, not factual, issues that MUST be addressed in order to be successful. We often turn clients away for modification if we do not believe they have a strong case as we do not want for a parent to waste their money on a case that is not likely to succeed.