Appellate Court Says Parenting Plan Lacks Specificity and Orders New Plan
Former husband John Duke appealed the trial court’s final judgment dissolving his marriage to his wife, Heather. The Orlando couple were married for 25 years before she petitioned for dissolution of marriage. At the time, they had one minor child.
Following a non-jury trial, the trial judge ordered John to pay permanent periodic alimony, child support, attorney’s fees, and a reimbursable lump sum to Heather for alternate housing. It also required him to maintain life insurance with his former wife as the named beneficiary. The court also established a parenting plan.
No Trial Transcript on Appeal
In this case, there wasn’t a trial transcript in the record. Without this, an appellate court can’t properly resolve the underlying factual issues to determine whether the trial court’s judgment is supported by the evidence. A Florida appellate court will review the sufficiency of evidence at trial without a trial transcript and will reverse a dissolution only when the trial court’s error is clear on the face of the order or judgment.
Parenting Plan Requirements
The District Court of Appeals agreed with John’s argument that the trial court’s parenting plan failed to comply with statutory requirements because it didn’t make findings required by § 61.13(2)(b) of the Florida Statutes. Even without a trial transcript, Judge Michael S. Orfinger wrote that it was apparent that the parenting plan was not specific enough to satisfy the law. This section states that a parenting plan must, at a minimum, contain the following:
A detailed description of how the parents will share and be responsible for the daily tasks associated with the upbringing of the child;
The time-sharing schedule arrangements that specify the time that the minor child will spend with each parent;
A designation of which parent will be responsible for:
Any and all forms of health care. If the court orders shared parental responsibility over health care decisions, the parenting plan must provide that either parent may consent to mental health treatment for the child;
School-related matters, including the address to be used for school-boundary determination and registration;
Other activities; and
A detailed description of the methods and technologies that the parents will use to communicate with the
Parenting Plan Lacked Specificity
Judge Orfinger said that a trial court’s failure to make these required factual findings was a reversible error even without a transcript. In the case of the Dukes, the final judgment required the couple to share parenting of the child and “divide uncovered medical expenses in proportion to the child support guideline percentages.” The trial judge also ordered that Heather would “have the majority of the responsibility with the parties’ remaining minor child.”
The parenting plan provided that John would have “liberal contact with the minor child upon providing 48 hours’ notice” to Heather, and he would have “no less than 1/3 of the overnights” with their child. As long as Heather didn’t indicate a prior conflict with the child, John was to be allowed to have “two weekends per month and the balance of weekdays for a total of at least 10 calendar nights per month.” Finally, the parenting plan stated that both parents “are to be involved with assisting the child with his school work during the time that the parent is exercising time-sharing.”
Judge Orfinger said that these findings “lack specificity.” Thus, the trial court’s failure to include a more specific parenting plan that complied with the statute in the final judgment was an error. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case to the trial court for a legally sufficient parenting plan in a final judgment. Duke v. Duke, Case No. 5D16-120 (Fla. DCA 5th February 10, 2017).
As you can see from the case of the Dukes above, the statutory requirements for a parenting plan must be strictly followed. Speak with an attorney about your rights, especially as they concern your children. Call DeVoe Law Firm to schedule a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney.