When the Court Can (and Can’t) Add Terms to Your Florida Timesharing Agreement

It is once again the holiday season. It is the time of vacations from school and (perhaps) work, along with family get-togethers. For divorced spouses with children, it is also a time for managing the challenges of timesharing. Hopefully, the parents will work together cooperatively to facilitate the growth of each parent’s relationship with the child.

Regrettably, that is not always true. Whether it is the holidays, spring break, summer vacation or some other visit, your spouse may seek to make unreasonable demands regarding timesharing that aren’t part of your agreement or court order. When that happens, be sure you have a skilled Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney on your side to ensure that your rights and your relationship (and time) with your child are protected.

R.B. and M.O. were a divorced couple whose case involved long-distance timesharing logistical issues. The mother lived in Broward County. The father was a major in the U.S. Army stationed in Colorado. The couple had a timesharing order that said that the father and mother would “confer regarding airplane tickets and will mutually agree prior to booking” any air travel.

According to the mother, this was a problem because reaching a mutual agreement had often been difficult and the booking of “last-moment” tickets had left her only airfares that she could not afford. So, the mother asked the trial judge to issue a “clarification” order that said that the parents had to book all air travel for timesharing at least 60 days before the date of travel.

The trial judge sided with the mother, but the father was successful in his appeal, which meant that the 60-day rule was thrown out.

When a ‘clarification’ really isn’t a clarification but a modification instead

There are a few important things you can learn from a case like this and apply to your own situation. First off, you can request – and a trial judge can issue – an order of clarification as long as that order simply clarifies something in the previous order that was ambiguous. This kind of order will merely maintain the status quo, just in a way that is “clearer and more precise.”

If, however, what your spouse is really asking for is something that will change the status quo and change one or both of your rights and obligations, then that is not a request for clarification. That is a request for modification. This distinction is important because Florida imposes a higher hurdle on spouses or parents seeking modification as opposed to clarification. If your spouse’s request really seeks a modification, then your spouse has to prove to the court that there has been a significant and unanticipated change of circumstances.

In R.B. and M.O.’s case, the “clarification” that the wife proposed would have raised the number of obligations. Originally, the parents were only required to confer about air travel and then mutually agree prior to booking tickets. Under the clarification, the father would essentially bear the burden “to negotiate and book the flight arrangements—and do so at least sixty days before travel,” according to the appeals court. That was change in obligations, which meant that it was a modification of the original agreement, not a clarification. Because the mother did not have proof of changed circumstances, she was not entitled to a modification and the 60-day rule had to be thrown out.

Managing long-distance timesharing can be tough for the child and the parents. Healthy cooperation between the parents is best but, sometimes, that doesn’t happen. When your ex-spouse is making improper demands regarding timesharing or other parental responsibility matters, using legal processes may be necessary. To protect your relationship with your child, retain the knowledgeable South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.