It’s never easy to end a relationship with someone you share a child with. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that you don’t end a relationship with a co-parent—you simply change it. Instead of being spouses or romantic partners, you are partners in the business of raising your child. Part of this new “business” relationship is facilitating a relationship between your child and their other parent.
If the ending of your romantic relationship was stressful and angry, you might wonder why you should put effort into making sure your child has a good relationship with their other parent. You might believe that the other parent does not deserve time with your child, or that your child would be better cared for by you. Even so, it is important for two reasons to foster a relationship between your child and the other parent.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT YOUR CHILD’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR OTHER PARENT
The first reason you want to make sure your child has the best possible relationship with the other parent is, quite simply, your child. It is established that strong parent-child relationships are essential for children. Kids who have a healthy, secure attachment to their parents are more likely to develop good relationships with others in their lives, including when they become adults. A secure parent-child relationship also helps children regulate their emotions, manage stress, and contributes to overall development.
The State of Florida recognizes the importance of both parents in a child’s life, which leads to the second reason it is important for you to facilitate a relationship between your child and their other parent: doing so is one of the “best interests factors” that courts consider when allocating time-sharing and parental responsibility (custody) in Florida. Because the courts know how important it is for a child to have strong ties to both parents, they consider a parent’s willingness to foster those ties when determining custody.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FACILITATE A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOUR CHILD AND YOUR CO-PARENT?
Let’s get some clarity on what it means to facilitate a relationship between your child and their other parent. Here is the language from the Florida Statutes about what courts are to consider:
“The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.”
Supporting a good relationship with the other parent doesn’t mean you need to allow the other parent unlimited time with your child. It does mean that you should be willing to abide by the time-sharing schedule the court has ordered, so that your child will have the time and opportunity to develop their relationship with the other parent. While you should respect the schedule, you should also be willing to be flexible when that is warranted; if the other parent gets called in to work on a night they were due to spend with the child, a reasonable co-parent might agree to swap nights if possible.
The idea is for the child to get to spend enough time with each parent that the bond between them is strengthened. While a regular schedule promotes this, it’s not necessary to be rigid about observing the schedule. If you believe the other parent is taking advantage of your willingness to be reasonable, document those events so you can recall them later if you need to address time-sharing issues in court.
The words “capacity and disposition” translate to “able and willing,” and that’s what it all boils down to. Are you able and willing to put your child’s needs above your own feelings about the other parent? Are you able and willing to do what the court has ordered rather than what you might prefer?
Your attitude is important. The statute refers to “encouraging” a close relationship. Abiding by a time-sharing schedule is important, but if you do so bitterly, disparaging the other parent or making your child feel guilty for leaving you,
What if you feel like your child is in genuine danger when they are in the other parent’s care—say, if the other parent is an active alcoholic and has been known to drive under the influence? The answer is that facilitating a close parent-child relationship looks different in different circumstances. If a child is not safe with a parent, it may not be possible for the child to spend unsupervised time with them, but there may be other ways to preserve the relationship, such as supervised visits and regular phone calls. Your child’s safety is paramount, and if you think your child is not safe with your existing time-sharing order, you must address that issue in court. If you have further questions about this or any of the Florida best interests factors, we invite you to contact family lawyer Antonio Jimenez to schedule a consultation.