A parenting plan is a critical component of any divorce involving children. As defined by Florida Statute 61.046(14), it is a document created to govern the relationship between the parents relating to decisions that must be made regarding the minor child. The parenting plan must include a time-sharing schedule for the parents and the child.
Section 61.046 specifically identifies, but does not limit, the issues concerning the child that may be addressed in the parenting plan. These identified issues include the child’s education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being. The parenting plan evaluator is required to consider all circumstances between the parents, including their historic relationship, domestic violence and other relevant factors, in creating the parenting plan. Under section 61.046(15), the court-appointed evaluator may make nonbinding recommendations to the court addressing one or more components of a parenting plan.
The choice of a parenting plan evaluator is important, especially in high conflict divorces. Florida Statute 61.046 provides for parenting plans made by mental health practitioners, while Rule 12.363, Fla.R.Fam.L.P., provides for the appointment of a licensed mental health professional or other expert to conduct a home or social study. Typically, the evaluator will be a mental health professional licensed under Chapter 490 or 491, Florida Statutes. Psychologists and school psychologists are licensed under Chapter 490. Mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and clinical social workers are licensed under Chapter 491.
Though parenting plan evaluators are often clinically experienced mental health practitioners, their proper role under the statute is to evaluate the parenting skills of the parties, not to diagnose mental disorders in the parents or the child. If mental disorders are present, the relevant issue is the way the disorder affects the parenting abilities of the party or parties.
If you or someone you know need help with a custody case, please contact an experienced family law or experienced custody lawyer.