How to Adjust Time-Sharing for Your Children as Their Needs Change

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This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. In this guide, we will address the most common questions and concerns related to alimony in Florida, helping you navigate the complex terrain of this important aspect of divorce law.

Navigating adjustments in time-sharing arrangements for children can be a complex task, especially when they reach their teenage years. Teenagers may have distinct feelings about their parenting time schedule, leading to requests for changes that can confuse even the most cooperative parents. While the child’s preferences are one factor the courts consider when modifying a time-sharing schedule, other aspects exist.

Divorce or separation is already challenging, and it becomes even more complicated when children are involved. Teens, in particular, have a heightened awareness of the changes occurring and may seek adjustments in their time-sharing arrangements. Crafting or modifying parenting plans for teens requires careful thought and effort to create a nurturing and supportive environment that considers their preferences.

Expected Teenage Development

Understanding the developmental milestones between the ages of 13 and 18 can significantly assist in creating a well-informed parenting plan and time-sharing schedule for your teenager. During this period, teenagers embark on a journey to establish their personal identity within the boundaries of societal rules, school environments, and peer relationships. They gradually seek more independence and strive to define themselves as individuals.

It’s important to note that girls typically mature faster than boys during this age range. Teenagers demonstrate varying levels of decision-making abilities and responsibility management.

Between the ages of 13 and 18, teenagers often prioritize spending time with friends over their family and parents. They begin taking charge of their own social activities, work commitments, and other responsibilities as they grow older. Significant physical and emotional changes occur during this period, making open communication more important than ever.

This stage of development also marks a crucial time for parents to assist their teenagers in preparing for an independent life after high school. Discussing educational goals, career plans, and future endeavors can help guide them toward a successful transition into adulthood.

Teens taking a selfie - Teen development

Communicating With Teenagers About Time-Sharing

When teenagers express a desire to change the parenting time schedule, remember that their request is not necessarily a punishment towards one parent. It reflects their own needs and growing independence. However, situations can become more challenging when parents struggle to communicate about the issue. In such cases, litigation may be the unfortunate outcome. 

Utilizing a mediator or parent coordinator can offer numerous benefits when navigating time-sharing arrangements. These professionals provide a neutral and impartial perspective, fostering an environment of open communication and cooperation between parents. Camy B. Schwam-Wilcox is an experienced in conflict resolution and child development, enabling her to guide discussions effectively and help parents explore creative solutions that address the evolving needs of their children.

On the other hand, if parents can have constructive discussions, reach an agreement, and present a united front to the teenager, it doesn’t matter which option they choose, what matters is that they listen to their teenager and respect their feelings.

Teenagers may articulate their wishes in mature and well-reasoned ways or resort to angry outbursts and conflicts, refusing to visit one parent’s home or causing disruption in other areas of their lives. Courts generally acknowledge that, after a certain age, it becomes difficult to force a teenager to stay with a parent that they are refusing to stay with at their home (depending on the reasons of course).

Mom trying to talk to her teen daughter - teens and time-sharing

Teenagers, by nature, are somewhat self-centered, and their reactions to divorce reflect this. They may worry about moving and changing schools, leaving behind friends and familiar environments. They may also have concerns about how the divorce will affect their education, extracurricular activities, social interactions, and future plans, including college. Additionally, they may silently contemplate how the divorce will impact the overall family dynamic, their siblings, and potential future relationships for their parents.

Unlike younger children who may become clingy, teenagers often display aloofness or even hostility. However, behind these behaviors often lie frightened children who need reassurance that the situation will work out and that everyone will be okay. While communication with teenagers can be challenging, trying to understand their concerns is important, even if they respond with blank stares or shrugs. They are processing the situation as the adults are; however, they are in the middle of two parents who are separating, and it is a difficult situation for a child, no matter what their age. The children are not the ones asking for their parents to split up, they are sadly just victims of the process.

Modifying a Parenting Plan For a Teenager (13- to 18-year-old)

Effective communication between parents is crucial for successful co-parenting. Discussing important topics such as curfews, driving, dating, and other relevant matters helps ensure consistency and promotes a united front. Including provisions in your parenting plan that outline how parents will communicate can facilitate a cooperative approach.

As your teenager approaches adulthood, both parents need to engage in conversations about their future goals, including education, work, and other post-high school plans. This will allow for coordinated support and guidance during this transitional period and make your teenage not feel that they are being pulled between their parents. 

By working together and considering your teenager’s needs, preferences, and schedule, you can create a parenting plan that supports their growth and development while maintaining a healthy co-parenting dynamic. Flexibility and adaptability will ensure the plan remains effective as your teenager navigates their teenage years.

Time-sharing schedules by age per the psychologists 

  Exchange Timeline Tips
Baby (0 – 24 months old) Each parent should spend time with their child(ren) at least every 2 days. Maintain a consistent time-of-day exchange.
Toddler (2 – 5 years old) Each parent should spend time with their child(ren) at least every 3 days. Co-parents can include or substitute phone calls.
School age (5 – 13 years old) Typically OK to spend 1 week away from each co-parent. Providing your child(ren) a calendar helps them with consistency and expectations.
Teenager (13 – 18 years old) Easier for your child(ren) to be away from either parent for 1 – 2 weeks. Teenagers will likely want to have input on the schedule to include time with friends, activities, and their own work schedules.

Adjusting time-sharing schedules

Requests for changes to time-sharing schedules can arise even in equal time-sharing plans. A child who had previously followed a 2-2-5-5 or alternating weeks schedule may now desire to spend more time at one parent’s house. It’s important to understand that this preference does not necessarily indicate a preference for one parent over the other but rather a teenager’s expression of independence and a focus on their own busy life. Most children don’t want to insult or hurt either parent, and their desire for more time in one household reflects their need for a home life that accommodates their own lifestyle rather than solely considering the parents’ perspectives.

Fortunately, various schedules can work well for teenagers, depending on your specific situation and your teen’s preferences. Consider trying the following options:

The 5-2 schedule or the 2-2-5-5 schedule: Your teenager spends 5 days with one parent and 2 days with the other parent.

The 2 weeks each schedule: Your teenager spends 2 weeks with one parent and then 2 weeks with the other parent.

The every 3rd week schedule: Your teenager spends 2 weeks with one parent and the 3rd week with the other parent.

The 4-3 schedule or the 3-4-4-3 schedule: Your teenager spends 4 days with one parent and 3 days with the other parent.

The every 3rd weekend schedule: Your teenager spends every 3rd weekend with the nonresidential parent.

If your teenager wishes to primarily reside in one home to maintain consistency with their friends and activities, you can schedule specific times throughout the week for them to spend time with the other parent. Both parents can also attend the teenager’s activities to have more opportunities to see and engage with their child.

As your teenager grows older and their schedule becomes busier, it may be necessary to make further adjustments to the time-sharing schedule. In cases where physical presence is not possible, parents should try to schedule regular phone calls or find other ways to stay in contact with their teenager. Adapting the schedule and maintaining communication can help ensure a continued connection and involvement in their lives.

Customize time-sharing to include their needs

When developing a parenting plan for a teenager, it is important to customize it to meet their specific needs and developmental stage. Here are some key considerations to make your parenting plan more effective for teenagers:

Balancing Support and Independence: Teenagers still rely on their family for support and guidance, so your plan should allow both parents to be involved in their life. However, it’s crucial to recognize their need for independence and explore activities and relationships outside of the family unit.

Flexibility for Busy Schedules: Teenagers lead busy lives filled with various activities, jobs, friends, and sports. Your parenting plan should be flexible enough to accommodate their schedule, considering that conflicts may arise between parenting time and their commitments.

Friend and Peer Relationships: Teenagers often prioritize spending time with friends and peers over family. Your plan should allow them to maintain these important relationships while ensuring regular and meaningful parenting time.

As teenagers grow older, they become more capable of managing their own parenting time. Listening to their preferences and involving them in the decision-making process is essential. Ignoring their wishes may lead to anger or resentment. Additionally, parents should strive to attend their teenager’s activities, such as athletic events, performances, and academic pursuits, to demonstrate ongoing support and involvement.

Teens hanging out and talking

How to Modify a Parenting Plan

Modifying an existing parenting plan involves a formal process that begins with filing a written Petition in the court that originally ordered the previous parenting plan. Alongside the Petition, it is necessary to submit a proposed parenting plan that you are seeking the court to adopt.

While the Petition does not need to be lengthy, it should clearly state your intention to modify the parenting plan. Additionally, provide concise explanations as to why the current plan is not working and why you believe your proposed plan is in the child’s best interest.

When constructing the proposed parenting plan, aim for comprehensiveness. Address various aspects, including:

  • Primary placement of the child.
  • Establish regular time-sharing schedules for the co-parent, specifying when it begins and ends.
  • Allocating time-sharing during holidays, school breaks, and the children’s birthdays.
  • Consideration of extended summer visitation for the co-parent.

It is important to approach your proposals objectively. Ensure they appear fair and equitable, as a court may be hesitant to grant a modification if it perceives any unfairness or unreasonableness in the proposed plan.

After filing your Petition and proposed parenting plan with the court clerk, you must serve a copy to the other parent. The case will go t o mediation in most jurisdictions before the court will set the same for a trial. 

Can You Modify a Parenting Plan Without Going to Court in Florida?

In certain situations, modifying a parenting plan without going through a full court hearing in Florida is possible. This can occur through an ex parte (one side only) process. However, it is important to note that this avenue is only available in cases of emergency or agreement of the parties.  The threshold for deeming a situation as an emergency is exceptionally high. A Petition for modification without a full hearing will only succeed when there is compelling evidence that the child is facing severe and immediate risk of abuse or neglect (or by agreement).

What Does the Court Reject in Time-Sharing Plan Modifications?

Parents need to be aware that certain facts and circumstances are unlikely to justify a modification in the parenting plan:

Child’s Wishes: Unless the child is nearing adulthood, typically around 16 or 17 years old, the court is unlikely to modify a parenting plan solely based on the child’s desires. While the court may consider the child’s wishes, the deference level may vary depending on the child’s age.

Violation of Parenting Time Agreement: The court rarely modifies an existing parenting time plan simply due to the other parent’s failure to adhere to the agreed-upon visitation schedule. Although there are remedies available for addressing misconduct by a parent, such as contempt proceedings, modifying the parenting plan is not a common course of action unless the failure to adhere to the parenting plan is occurring regularly. 

Disparity in Incomes: The court generally does not change a parenting time agreement or alter the residential placement of a child solely because one parent has a higher income than the other. 

What To Expect After You’ve Presented Your Evidence

After presenting your evidence, the other parent will have an opportunity to present their own evidence or testimony for the court to consider. Once both sides have presented their case, the court will proceed to make a decision. In most instances, you can expect to receive a ruling on your Petition on the same day; however, the court may take the matter under advisement for further consideration.

If the court grants your Petition and orders a change in the parenting plan, the judge will provide a specific date when the new plan will take effect. From that effective date onwards, both parties must adhere to the terms outlined in the revised parenting plan.

On the other hand, if the court denies your Petition to modify the parenting plan, it is generally impossible to challenge that decision. However, you may still have the option to seek a future modification if you can demonstrate new evidence or circumstances that warrant a change. It is important to note that, in most cases, you cannot file another Petition to modify the parenting plan based solely on the evidence you previously presented to the court that was already denied, that is called res judicata.

Seek Legal Advice

In the ever-evolving landscape of parenting and time-sharing plans, it is crucial to adapt and adjust as your children’s needs change. At Schwam Wilcox & Associates, we understand the complexities and sensitivities involved in modifying parenting plans to ensure the best interests of your children are met. Our experienced team provides guidance and support throughout the process, helping you navigate the legal intricacies and make informed decisions prioritizing your children’s well-being.

Whether you need advice on negotiating with your co-parent, presenting a compelling case in court, or crafting a comprehensive parenting plan, our attorneys are here to assist you. Contact Schwam-Wilcox & Associates today to ensure a smooth transition and a nurturing environment for your children as their needs evolve.

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