Proceedings regarding parental responsibility and visitation are continuing in nature. This means that visitation schedules can be changed, provided that the parent requesting the modification can prove his/her case in Court. The Court has the power to modify the parenting plan under Florida Statute §61.13(2)(d).
A parent seeking to change a parenting plan/visitation schedule must show a substantial material change in the circumstances since the date of the previous order establishing the schedule, or material facts unknown to the Court at the time of the previous order. See Wade v. Hirschman, 903 So.2d 928 (Fla. 2005).
If the child has been in a stable environment, Courts are reluctant to disrupt the child’s visitation schedule unless the child is endangered in the existing environment and the advantages of a change outweigh the harm that may be caused to the child.
The parent seeking to modify an order regarding parental responsibility and timesharing carries an extraordinary burden of showing that: 1) there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the date of the order establishing the parental responsibility and the timesharing schedule; and 2) that a modification is in the best interest of the minor child.
Substantial Change in Circumstances:
The requirement to show a substantial change in circumstances applies to all requests for modification of visitation orders, including those adopted by a Court pursuant to an agreement of the parents as well as those established after an adversarial hearing.” See Bazan v. Gambone, 924 So.2d 952 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006).
The substantial and material change in circumstances must have occurred subsequent to the last order addressing visitation/timesharing. See Ledoux-Nottingham v. Downs, 163 So.3d 560 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015). Evidence of a parent’s behavior that occurred before the previous order is not relevant in a modification proceeding. See Jannotta v. Hess, 959 So.2d 373 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007).
Court rulings on Substantial Changes in Circumstances
What constitutes a change in circumstances is determined by the facts of each case. A major change in a person’s life may not be viewed by the Court as a substantial change in circumstances.
For example, one parent’s remarriage and improved life and financial circumstances since the date of the previous order do not constitute the substantial change of circumstances required for a modification of the initial custody determination. See Kilgore v. Kilgore, 729 So.2d 402 (Fla. 1st DCA 1998). The best interests of the child are what is key, rather than the best interests of any particular parent or relative.
The fact that the parents do not get along with each other, alone, does not constitute a change of circumstances that justifies a modification of parental responsibility. See Sanchez v. Hernandez, 45 So.3d 57 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010). However, Florida Courts have found that the parents’ inability to agree on which school their child should attend was enough to be a substantial change in circumstances justifying a change in ultimate responsibility over educational decisions. See Watt v. Watt, 966 So.2d 455 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007).
“Parental alienation, if proved by competent, substantial evidence, can justify a post-dissolution request for a modification of a time-sharing designation in a final judgment.” See Korkmaz v. Korkmaz, 200 So.3d 263 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016).
Best Interest of Minor Child:
Florida Statute §61.13 states that:
For purposes of establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, which governs each parent’s relationship with his or her minor child and the relationship between each parent with regard to his or her minor child, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.Florida Statute §61.13(3)
When considering the best interest of the child, the Court is required to review all of the factors set forth in Florida Statute §61.13(3). The Court does not need to address each of these factors independently, but it must make a finding that the timesharing schedule is in the child’s best interests. See Schwieterman v. Schwieterman, 114 So.3d 984 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012).
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