Even the most spontaneous among us need some structure in our lives. Routine helps to provide that, and may become so ingrained that we don’t even realize it. When something throws off our routine, we may be surprised at how difficult we find it to function. For children, the importance of routine is even greater than it is for adults. That’s why the ability of each parent to maintain important routines for the child is one of the “best interests” factors considered by Florida courts when determining parental responsibility and time-sharing, also known as custody.
Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3)(k) states that in custody matters, courts will consider “the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.”
Let’s talk for a moment about “capacity” and “disposition.” Capacity refers to the ability to do something, and disposition refers to willingness to do it. The statute is asking whether a parent is both able and willing to provide the child with a routine. The best way to demonstrate capacity and disposition to a court, of course, is to show that historically, you have done just what the court wants to know about: provide your child with a consistent routine.
WHY IS A REGULAR ROUTINE SO IMPORTANT TO CHILDREN?
Children, especially young children, have little control over their lives: their parents generally decide when and where they will eat, what they will wear, where they will go, and how they will spend their time. Routine offers, if not control, a sense of predictability and order. For children whose lives have already been disrupted by their parents’ separation or impending divorce, being able to know what is coming next, and to have confidence that their needs will be met, reduces anxiety.
For young children and toddlers, tantrums and meltdowns can be caused by the stress of not being able to control (or predict) their environment. For older children, a lack of structure can lead to struggles in school and general frustration. Routine, on the other hand, offers children a feeling of safety and enables them to achieve mastery over their lives. Mastery, in turn, leads to self-esteem and confidence that they can handle new challenges. As children master small things (dressing themselves, brushing their teeth), they become willing to take on bigger challenges as they grow.
A predictable routine, for kids, is a foundation. Of course there will be times when a routine gets disrupted, by illness, a parent traveling for business, or various other events. But having the security of a regular routine generally makes children better able to cope when things don’t go as planned.
None of this is to suggest that a highly-regimented schedule is necessary, or that there is no room for flexibility or spontaneity. It is just a recognition that kids need the structure of routine, and courts are inclined to favor parents who are mature and stable enough to meet that need.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Do your kids have a regular bedtime and bedtime routine (e.g. bath, storytime, sleep? Who guides them through this routine?
- Do your kids have a regular place to do homework? Do they study at regular times? Who helps them with their homework?
- Who disciplines the children? How are they disciplined? Is discipline applied consistently, so that if a child breaks a rule, he or she knows what to expect?
- Are mealtimes more or less regular? Does the family eat together?
If your answer to some of these questions are “no,” or “I don’t know,” it’s time to think about your role in parenting. Could you be doing more to give your children the solid foundation that a regular routine provides? Simple things you can do include:
- Establishing regular bedtimes
- Establishing regular morning routines so school-age kids can get themselves ready
- Eating meals together at the table
- Establishing house rules and talking in advance about consequences for breaking them
- Having a place and time designated for homework, and making sure homework is complete every night
- Giving kids regular, age-appropriate chores. Even small kids, for instance, can learn to pick up their toys before bed.
HOW THE ISSUE OF ROUTINE FITS INTO YOUR CUSTODY CASE
Whether or not you have established regular routines for your children fits into the larger picture of whether you are focused primarily on their needs. Like the other Florida “best interests” factors, the issue of routine is not simply a box to be checked on a questionnaire of which parent is more fit. It is simply one aspect of how you provide appropriate care for your children. An experienced Florida family law attorney can review the facts of your situation with you and help you to strengthen your position in a custody matter. If you have more questions about custody matters in Florida or the other “best interests” factors, please contact Miami family lawyer Antonio Jimenez.