Among the twenty “best interests” factors Florida courts consider when determining custody matters is each parent’s participation and involvement in the child’s school and activities. Florida Statutes section 61.13(3)(p) references “the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.”
As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, “capacity and disposition” translates to “able and willing.” When we speak of a parent’s capacity to do something, we are asking if they’re able. A parent who lives three states away, for instance, doesn’t have the capacity to coach the child’s T-ball team. “Disposition” asks if a parent is disposed, or willing, to be involved.
Let’s not ignore that word “demonstrated” in the statute. It’s one thing to be willing and able to participate in your child’s school events and extracurricular activities. It’s another to actually have a record of such involvement. If you’d like to be more involved with your child’s school and activities, but for some reason haven’t done so, now is the time to start. Let’s talk about how, and what it could mean for your custody case.
BECOMING AND STAYING INVOLVED IN YOUR CHILD’S SCHOOL LIFE
For stay-at-home parents or those with flexible work schedules, it is obviously much easier to volunteer in the classroom or lead an after-school scout troop. In many couples, labor is divided so that one parent is the primary breadwinner, and the other primarily cares for the home and children. The caregiver parent might have something of an edge with regard to this “best interests” factor.
That doesn’t mean that a parent who works full-time during business/school hours cannot increase their involvement in the child’s activities. And just because your child’s other parent has “taken care of” contacts with your child’s school thus far doesn’t mean you are shut out of the process. Absent a court order saying otherwise, you are equally entitled to involvement with your child’s education and extracurriculars.
If your child’s teachers are accustomed to dealing primarily with your estranged spouse/co-parent, contact them directly (you can probably find their contact information on the school’s website). Ask them the best way to stay involved in your child’s education, and provide them (and school administration) with your contact information. If you and the child’s other parent are already separated or in the process of divorce, let your child’s teacher know, so he or she can watch for how it is affecting your child.
Don’t be afraid to ask how you can be involved, even with whatever limitations you have. Teachers have a hard job and are grateful for parent support; if there is something you can do, they will let you know. The answer will benefit you, the teacher, and your child.
Pay attention to your child’s school website, which will probably have a calendar listing upcoming events like “Donuts with Dad/Muffins with Mom,” science fairs, concerts, fundraisers, and, of course, parent-teacher conferences. Naturally, you should also talk to your child, and see if there are any events they want you to be there for.
Of course, events at school are not the only way you can be involved in your child’s academic life. Take the time to ask your child about their homework, offer your help, and assist them in making sure that assignments are done correctly and turned in when due.
BEING THERE FOR YOUR CHILD’S EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
Children are involved in all kinds of extracurricular activities, from scouting to sports to music, dance, art and theater, and much more. Obviously, the type of involvement you are able to have will depend not only on your schedule and resources, but the type of activity. You may not be able to coach your daughter’s track team, but you can transport her to and from meets. You might not be able to teach your son to play violin, but you can encourage him to practice and attend his concerts.
Remember that your involvement in your child’s school and extracurricular activities is only one aspect of your Florida custody case. That said, making an effort to be more involved has benefits that go beyond gaining an advantage in your custody matter. Children know who shows up for them and cares about the things that they care about. By making an effort to be more involved with your child’s life, you may benefit your custody matter, but you will certainly strengthen your relationship with your child.
If you have questions about the Florida “best interests” factors or time-sharing and parental responsibility (custody) in Florida, please contact Miami divorce attorney Antonio Jimenez to schedule a consultation.