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Florida bill aims to streamline child custody parenting plans

Child development experts have stipulated for a significant period that a close parent-child relationship benefits the child's overall mental health. Moreover, if a child is not able to spend time with a parent, this can cause mental distress for both the parent and child. To that end, one Florida senate bill aims to make it easier for both unmarried mothers and fathers to have a relationship with their child.

The Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs unanimously approved SB 590, which was introduced by Florida Senator, Jeff Brandes. Under this bill, the Florida Department of Revenue could create parenting plans per the consensus of two unmarried parents. If the child's unmarried parents cannot come to a consensus on a parenting plan, then their case would go to a circuit court. Currently, a Family Court must approve any parenting plan in the state. It is hoped that the measure would streamline the process of establishing parenting plans.

The cost to the state would initially be $419,000. After that, the cost to the state would amount to $20,000 annually. The purpose of the bill is to allow children to spend frequent time with their fathers in an economical manner. But, if the child is age three or under, or if a parent was the recipient of a criminal conviction, the parent who has primary custody of the child does not have to agree to a parenting plan.

The bill did have some opposition. For example, one attorney states that the state's long-standing policy when it comes to child custody is to make decisions that are in the best interest of the child. Therefore, a one-size fits all measure may not benefit all children in the state. Moreover, different children have different needs. For example, the needs of a toddler are different from the needs of a teenager.

The bill is still just that -- a bill, not law. Before it can become law, it needs to pass through a number of other committees and the state house. Although, if passed into law, it would become effective on January 1, 2018. Streamlining the process it takes to establish a parenting plan for unmarried parents is a noble goal, but it is important that all aspects of any proposition be carefully examined to ensure the best possible legislation can be passed.

Source: Florida Politics, "Parenting plan bill that skip courts, lifts court overload gets unilateral support in Senate committee," Les Neuhaus, March 6, 2017

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