Mediate This!

Child Safety: What A Safety-Focused Parenting Plan Looks Like Part I

June 03, 2022 Matthew Brickman, Sydney Mitchell Season 1 Episode 55
Mediate This!
Child Safety: What A Safety-Focused Parenting Plan Looks Like Part I
Show Notes Transcript

How can parenting plans focus on issues with child safety, absentee parents and a history of drug and alcohol abuse? Matthew Brickman and Sydney Mitchell answer your most frequently asked questions about divorce as they go over several key points:

  • Assume nothing.
  • Know who you are before you get married. 
  • Know who you're getting married to. 
  • Know the laws and statutes in the state you live in.
  • Don't take advice from anyone who isn't a legal professional in the state in which you're getting married and living in.

If you have a matter, disagreement, or dispute you need professional help with then visit iMediate.com - Email mbrickman@ichatmediation or Call (877) 822-1479

Matthew Brickman is a Florida Supreme Court certified family and appellate mediator who has worked in the 15th and 19th Judicial Circuit Courts since 2009 and 2006 respectively. But what makes him qualified to speak on the subject of conflict resolution is his own personal experience with divorce.

Download Matthew's book on iTunes for FREE:
You're Not the Only One - The Agony of Divorce: The Joy of Peaceful Resolution

Matthew Brickman
President iMediate Inc.
Mediator 20836CFA
iMediateInc.com

Sydney Mitchell:

Hi, my name is Sydney Mitchell.

Matthew Brickman:

Hi, I'm Matthew Brickman, Florida Supreme court mediator. Welcome to the Mediate This! Podcast where we discuss everything mediation and conflict resolution.

Sydney Mitchell:

Welcome everyone to this episode of Mediate This! This I'm Sydney here with Matthew, and today we are looking at the parenting plan, but Matthew, I know that we, as we were going through the , parenting plan way back, kind of in the beginning , um, we had alluded to a child safety section that I don't know how much we dove into. So I know we referenced it. I know we talked about talking about it, but we've received a lot of questions regarding, you know, families and individuals who may have safety concerns. Um, and so let's dive in today on what that looks like , with the parenting plan, what adjustments are being made and how, how those considerations play into , um, where, where a couple ends up in their agreement. So kind of give us an overview of where we left off and where, where you wanna take us as we talk about child safety.

Matthew Brickman:

So Sydney , I , I , I believe you're right. Um, we did talk about the parenting plan, but I don't think we talked about a safety focused parenting plan. Like we just talked about like, what are the general parts of the parenting plan? And I do believe that we did talk about, you know, sometimes there's a safety provisions that we can put into a parenting plan if need be, but we didn't talk about like an actual safety focused . We didn't talk about like a reunification plan. Um, we did not talk about like, you know , um , has there been an absentee parent and now they want to be involved? How do you do step up plans? What if there's drug or alcohol abuse, you know, or history of it? How do you build all of that in? So let's start with the first, the first piece, which , um, is the decision making part of it, cuz we've got the time sharing and we've got the decision making . So generally in a parenting plan and what Florida statute says is the court shall order. That's a command. The court shall order the parental responsibility be shared unless the court finds the shared parental would be detrimental to a child. So with the safety focused, really you have to have an entire hearing to decide whether or not the other parent has been making decisions that has created , uh , a legal detriment to the child. And if so then possibly during this period of time , um, and I've , I've done this in a mediation where during the step up plan or during the reunification therapy that will land on the eventual plan, maybe one parent and I've had it both mom or dad. So this is not just a mother thing. I've, I've , I've had it where mom's had the drug issue or where the dad has raised the child. And the mother has been Mia , not just the typical, well, you have an absentee father, I've had it both ways. Um, but , um, I've had it where like, you know, one of the parents may have not sold decision making , but maybe they have shared parental with one parent has having ultimate decision making during this period of time. So say for example, let's just say , um , that dad has been absent. Actually, I , I had a mediation years ago where dad was absent. Dad was absent for the first seven years of the child's life and then decided, Hey, I wanna be a part of the life. Well, mom's been making all the decisions and they were never married , uh , ma making all the decisions. And so we did a , um, I mean, I guess we could call it reunification, but he was never unified. So, you know , um , he did a therapy based time sharing , step up plan where his time sharing was in therapy with this seven year old . So that the two of them could learn how to relate who they were, but with a therapist mm-hmm <affirmative> um , so there weren't safety concerns. It wasn't like dad was a drug addict or they were afraid that he was gonna hurt the child. Mm-hmm <affirmative> it was that they needed a controlled environment with someone who could help process feelings of abandonment rejection or whatnot . And so they did it through the therapist during that period of time though, mother still retained decision making . So it went from soul cuz father was a , uh , father had filed his , his paperwork for paternity. So it went from soul , but it didn't go to shared immediately. It was, well, let's see how this works. Let's see how it goes. Let's see, you know, if dad's really serious about it, how the transition's working before you get into the , uh, unsupervised and eventual overnight time sharing . And so during that period of time, mother had , um , ultimate decision making . So what that meant was both mom and dad had to consult with things pertaining to the child, but if they did have a disagreement, instead of having to file something with the court and wait to get in front of a judge and a judge finally be the ultimate tiebreaker mom had the , had the ability to make the final decision, but she'd been making the decisions for the first seven years all by herself. Anyway. So we did the parenting plan where during this transition they would have shared with ultimate. And eventually when they had an unsupervised overnight time sharing , you know, everything went fine. Well then they would go into shared parental. So that's the first piece mm-hmm <affirmative> the second piece was we built it out for therapy. So for this particular one, again, there was no drug or alcohol abuse or physical abuse. It was simply, the child did know the father. So we did that one in a controlled environment with a therapist. And so we built it out in steps. And I always tell people two things. When we build something out in a step up form, it's sort of like we're carpenters and we're building a staircase. Well, you need to look at the, when , when we're done, we need to look at the staircase. It needs to look normal. It needs to feel normal as we climb it ,

Sydney Mitchell:

The child.

Matthew Brickman:

Yeah. I mean, you know, like, let's say for example, we're building stairs, you wouldn't just build every other one. It would look weird and it would feel weird doing it, you know, climbing it. Right . That's a great ,

Sydney Mitchell:

It's such a great illustration.

Matthew Brickman:

Yeah . So, so as we build it, it needs to make sense and it needs to be achievable. You don't build something out that can't be achieved really because why bother? The second thing that I always get asked is how long, how long is a step up plan or a reunification plan for , um , I've had it where it's like, you know , with , with that particular mediation, they wanted two years.

Sydney Mitchell:

Oh , wow .

Matthew Brickman:

Yeah . Two years. Now, if this is a staircase, why bother? Because I know that I could get in front of a judge. Who's not gonna make it two years. It'll it , it will most likely be faster. They will give me hoops to jump through. They will give me a , like, they will build it out , but it's not gonna take two years.

Sydney Mitchell:

Right.

Matthew Brickman:

So I always , uh, um , tell people that, well , usually I ask a question of the attorneys, which is how long until a trial or how long until a hearing, or how long until temporary relief. That's, that's your timeline. If you know that it's gonna take nine months before you will end up in front of a judge, there's your timeline? Anything past that? Why bother I'll get in front of a judge and maybe not even have to do any of this. Right? Sure . So it's important to first know , okay , how long then you can start to work backwards. If you know how long now we can start to build the steps because sometimes I've done something that's three steps. Sometimes I've done five steps. Sometimes it's set . Like it all depends on the timeline, because again, we need to build something that looks natural and feels natural. Mm-hmm

Sydney Mitchell:

<affirmative> I wanna, excuse me. I wanna back us up a little bit. Um, so for our listeners, you know, maybe they're walking through a situation where they may, you know, consider a child's safety , um, portion of their parenting plan. So we talk about the step up plan. You've clarified what that means, which I think is really important. Let's take a step back. What types of situations might require a step up plan? Um, you know, as , as a listener, maybe thinking about their own situation, wondering if maybe this is something to be considered, maybe this isn't as relevant. Um, what types of situations might someone find themselves in , uh , what safety concerns have you observed that would require something like a step up plan to be put in place?

Matthew Brickman:

So the first one, like I've been talking about is basically you have an absentee parent, mm-hmm usually it's a paternity action, not a divorce. Uh , but usually it's a paternity action where you've got one parent that just has not been around, so they don't have the relationship built. So would you just ,

Sydney Mitchell:

So them would be just a slow reintroduction of the parent into the

Matthew Brickman:

Correct . Um , and usually that's with a therapist. Um, sometimes it can be with the parent, like mom is the supervisor. That's rare. Um, sometimes the mother, like, and I'm just gonna use, for example, dad, like, like mom's the one around, like I said, this is not for against a mother father. I've had it both ways, but in this particular example, let's say that, you know, the father's been Mia. And so then the father may want, or the mother may want to be the supervisor. So we build out all the rules of what that may look like. Maybe it's a facility. Um , there are facilities that will , um, help with the supervision. Um, it usually costs the party's money mm-hmm <affirmative> . Um , but there is a facility. So that would be the first or, or there's the therapist, like we said, you know, maybe , maybe it's it's done in therapy. The second one would be , um, if there has been abuse, physical , um, abuse , um, with that , um, and , and it could be abuse of the parent. It's not abuse of the child. So maybe you had, you know, a mother that was abusive to the father or father that was abusive to the mother. And they're afraid that that abuse is gonna spill over in a and to , you know, they're gonna abuse the child, right?

Sydney Mitchell:

So even if the child has not been a part

Matthew Brickman:

Of that , even if the child has not been abused because of the abusive relationship and look, I've had it where it's verbal abuse, I've had it where it's physical abuse, where , you know , um , and, and , and I think you and I have talked in , in our very, very, very early on episodes about conflict where, you know, sometimes it's like verbal abuse and emotional abuse can be worse than physical, physical. Your bruises will heal, you know, but emotional, in words, those you carry through for the rest of your life.

Sydney Mitchell:

Right. And does that, whether it's emotional, physical, or verbal abuse, does it have to have been deemed such by the court prior to this process? Or, you know, what, if it was never brought before any authority and mom saying, well, this is happening. And, but there's maybe no, there's no case surrounding it. Just talk to me about what the requirements are or how that, how that happens for, for parents who make that

Matthew Brickman:

Process. So, so if it has not, if there's no documentation, mm-hmm , <affirmative> like, there's no police reports. There's no, nobody's been baker acted. Nobody's been arrested. Nobody's been , um, you know, if , if there's no reports, then it really is a, he said , she said, and if the parties are willing to work together and create this fine, sometimes I get it where one parent is like, you are crazy. No, I'm not doing it well, then they better have the evidence or it's not happening in a court of law. And that where that , that's where we go back to, how long does it take to get in front of a judge? Because maybe this is the cheapest fastest way for a parent to get a parenting plan and move into their eventual is they'll , they'll just suck it up and be like, fine. I'll do your, I'll jump through your hoops. I'll do whatever, because at least they, you know, again, we talk about in mediation, you retain control the parties, retain control, opposed to going to a judge where, who knows what that judge may or may not do. But evidence wise , a lot of times in mediation, there is no evidence. It is. He said, she said, or she said, he said , um , sometimes Sidney , I have had people that bring in videos. I've had people on their phone, I've had people bring in audio recordings and that's all nice, but I'm not a judge. Right . And so while I can hear it, and the other thing is the whole law of admissibility. Like you may have, it may not be admissible in a court of law. It can help you in your negotiations possibly, but it may not come into a court of law. It may fall on deaf ears and too , too bad. Um , and so, so physical abuse, sometimes the verbal abuse can then lead to this. Sometimes it's alcohol or drug abuse. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um , so usually with that though, usually there's a DUI , there's a DWI. There's been an arrest for drugs . Like something like that. Um, sometimes there is none like they've been able to skirt the law and get away with it, but come on, everybody knows you drink . And everybody knows what happens when you drink and, and what not . And so mom knows, or dad knows, but you don't have the evidence, but still this is a negotiation. This is a chance that, look, I may not know, the attorneys may not know. The judge may not know, but guess what? There are three individuals that know mom, dad, and God, and that's it. Like they know what's going on. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so I'm there being told. And sometimes Sidney it's , it's interesting because mom may tell me everything that dad has done. I mean, everything and I'm going, what? And I go in the other room and I'm like, okay, this is what I've been told. And dad's like, well , did, did she tell you about her drug arrest? And about the time where she had her DUI and I'm like, O okay, wait a second. No, like , you know, everybody's so quick to throw mud on the other person, but when people go to court with this, guess what, nobody walks out clean because all the dirt is gonna fly. Sure . Um , and so, you know, this is this , you know, this is the opportunity for the parties to take control based on what they know. Now , you don't necessarily have to have proof. And even the proof you have may not be admissible in court, but it may help with the negotiations. Um , and so we build out whatever it is, one of the most important things. And so usually regardless of whether it's drug, it's alcohol, it's physical abuse, it's , um, a parent just hasn't been around. It usually starts out with a few days a week for a few hours, we start off small. There is no court order . You know how the court looks at you and I have talked about, you know, time sharing is considered overnight. There's no overnights immediately because trust has been broken or it needs to be established, may not have been broken. It may never been established. And so we start out and so, you know , um, what's interesting. Sydney is a lot of people are like, well, okay, a few hours on Saturday and Sunday. And that's it to where I respond. Any grinder monkey can show up for some fun time, give them some responsibility time, because once there's overnights, once they're , once there is actual quote unquote quote , ordered time sharing , they're gonna have under the statute, the joys , the rights and the responsibilities. Why are you given ? And , and I'll tell you Sid , so many times mothers, not fathers, but mothers will be like, well, we'll do a little bit in the morning before nap time , or we'll do after nap, but return before dinner and bath time . And I'm going, you're giving 'em all the easy time, right? Like let them deal with a crying kid. That's tired and won't take a nap, let them deal with feeding and bathing . They're gonna have to do it anyway. Mm-hmm <affirmative> like, you know, and the other thing too is, is sometimes they're like, well, every other Saturday for an hour and I'm going all right , do you, and yet, yet the argument usually is, well, I don't think they're gonna actually stick with it. They just want it for optics. Or they want it for child support reasons to where I respond and say, overload them, give them the mother load , give them every Saturday and Sunday from nine to five. Like, because you know what, you'll find out sooner rather than later, if they're actually serious. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> have them, you know, I mean, if , if it's not a DUI drug, anything have 'em pick up from school, do homework, feed them and bring them back before bedtime. Mm-hmm <affirmative> like the heavy lift , not, not the entertainment, that's the easy part. Right. Right. And so, and so I'm like , do you really wanna see if they're serious? Well, you're not just going to give them the fun, easy navigating around the difficulties of parenting. Like, why would you do that? You know? And the other, the other thing that I , that, that I , that I put in here , um, and you'll see here, like after step one, right? So we have an example of step one. And the example that , um, I'll give is this. So step one is maybe for a number of weeks or months, or maybe it's until an age of a child. There's so many different ways to do. It depends on the particular situation. So we do from the date of executed this agreement and continuing for blank, consecutive weeks or months, it's important to put consecutive because that's, because later when we get to defining, like, how do we define, like what, what is substantial compliance? Because we're going from step one to step two, to maybe step three. Right. I also put, and I , I also put that this is non overnight time sharing . I don't want anybody to get confused with time sharing . No, we meant just day cuz the court talks about night. So I like to be very explicit. This is non overnight time sharing . We put where it is. We put who the supervisor is going to be. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, whether that is at a park, a mall, a facility somebody's home. Um, and then we, and then we talk about, okay, when is it, what day? And then from what time to what time then we go to step two, same exact language. We usually just copy and paste it. And we put, okay, it's, you know, for the , for either a time period or until a child's age. But then we put this very, very good language in here that says if the father or the mother has substantially exercised the above time sharing . So that would be the previous step. Then we define substantial compliance because substantial is a very vague term. Like, you know, if I said to you Sydney , um , did you get a substantial raise? Well, your idea is substantial. And my idea of substantial could be two different ideas of substantial. Right? Right. So for clarification purposes, I like to be detailed. So substantial compliance. If we're gonna put, if the parent has substantially exercised, we need to define what is substantial. So substantial compliance is defined as, for example, completing 10 outta 13 visits, unless the parties otherwise agree. Now we've gotta put that unless the parties otherwise agree. Cuz what if the child's sick? And so mom says, okay fine. Or what if dad like I've I've had these like during COVID right where then's like, oh look, I got COVID I'm on quarantine for two weeks. Mm-hmm <affirmative> okay . Why fine? Well, you can't comply when you're on quarantine and but , but that's not gonna be held against you. Right. Or

Sydney Mitchell:

If there's like emergency travel, like maybe a death in the family and somebody's gone. Yeah . Or just

Matthew Brickman:

Exactly. So 10 outta 13 or, or three outta five, whatever parameters we build around it. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um , usually the number that we're trying to get around is like, you know, 70% like, okay, fine. You can miss three outta 10, but this is completely, everything is negotiable. Right? And so, so we define substantial compliance then put, then the next graduated schedule will begin below and continue for blank the second of time, period of time. Right. But then we put, if the parent has not substantially adhered to the schedule, then they will not graduate to the next step until they've substantially exercised the above schedule. So what , one of the things Sidney that I'm always asked is, well, so let's say that they're on step three and they don't complete step three. Do they go all the way back to step one, start all over again. Like, no, like this is not punitive. This is meant to be protective. You and I have talked about time and time again where this is a shield, not a sword mm-hmm <affirmative> to do that. Turns this into a sword. Now we're trying to inflict punishment. We're trying like, no, this is simply to protect and create an environment that's protected for the child so that the parent and the child can exercise the time sharing . Right?

Sydney Mitchell:

Yeah. I was gonna say too, I mean, how confusing it might be for the child or children, you know, to be <laugh> backtracking, jumping from step to step. I mean, I feel like one of the advantages of the step up plan is, you know, if it's a slow integration of a parent into the child's life, that's, that's very doable. You know, it's more doable for a child. Um, whereas jumping around steps is that really in their best interest, that's just, that's just a thought of mine . Something to consider as, as you're trying to get behind this whole <laugh> progressive step and not starting in back at square one

Matthew Brickman:

And , and , and Sydney, you, you were spot on because this, remember this is all about best interest of the child. Now I've had so many times where a parent says, well, I'm not comfortable with this. I don't really care. Neither does the court. You , this is not about your comfort level. This is about best interests of the child. This is about public policy and public policy says the child is entitled to frequent and continuing contact. This. Doesn't say the child's entitled to contact so long as mom or dad have warm fuzzies and feel good about it. It's not about them feeling good about it. No parent, including me. When I went through this, no parent has warm fuzzies about their children going and spending time with the parent that they're no longer with. Like nobody's gonna feel good about no, one's gonna be like, oh yeah, I love her. I'm so glad my kids get to spend time with their mother. If that was true, I'd probably still be married to her , right? Like, no, but guess what? I'm creating a world that my children are safe when they are. It's not, if they are, it's when they are. And that's what we're doing. So Sidney , lemme tell you a quick , lemme tell you a quick story. I did a, a , a mediation where we built out a three month step up plan. That's how long it was gonna take to get in front of the judge. So we did a three month step up plan. Okay. Did the step up plan that ended up then with 50, 50 time sharing? So we did an accelerated parenting plan that started off with daytime, then added a night, then added two nights and then added , um , another night finally ended up with 50 50 time check . It took the father nine months to actually complete it. Now they didn't need to go to court. They didn't need to get the judge involved. They didn't even need to come back to mediation because this language that we're talking about right now says, if the parent has substantially exercised, then we define substantial. And then we said, if the parent has not substantially adhered, then they don't graduate to the next step until they have substantially exercised. And we defined what substantial is, right? Mm-hmm <affirmative> . So with this one particular parent, he just could not comply to step number two. He just couldn't get life happened. And it wasn't, it wasn't the exceptions that we had built in. It was that, you know what? I don't like that she's put these rules. So you know what, screw her. I'm not showing up great buddy. You can be off all you want all it does delay the inevitable your feelings get in the way of you accomplishing your own goal. Okay. Good luck with that. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> but guess what? They didn't, it didn't cost them more money. They didn't have to go through, they could come back to attorneys, mediation. We built it out to where this was just, it , it was just a good, it was a machine that, that covered the basis . And so guess what he then got over himself was able to then get back on track, complete each of these and then move on. This is very similar back, back in the day, Sydney , when I first started doing mediation , um, I first started with county civil. I think we had talked about this. Um, and then , um, got certified doing family and then thought, Hey, the missing piece to , um, to do in family was for me to do , uh , the mediation where I was basically working with DCF and DCF case workers and , um , and all of that. And all of that mediation is all about building a plan because we're having to give moms or dads a plan, sometimes both of 'em moms and dads. I mean, I had , I had one , uh , mediation where the father was in jail and the mother was in rehab. Both of them had a case plan. And so both of 'em had a plan that they had to achieve. And that's similar to what we're doing is we're we're, you know, building the parameters, building the safety focused things that we need with these different steps, but achievable steps. These aren't small little, teeny fiery hoops that are, you know, 10 feet high that, you know, nobody could PO we're not setting people up to fail. We're simply setting up a safety parenting plan where the child is safe with the parent. Now, with these plans going through these different steps, sometimes we don't address like, like in a regular parenting plan, we would have the interruptions, which are, I was

Sydney Mitchell:

Just gonna ask you about that.

Matthew Brickman:

Yeah. We would have the interruptions. What is something to us

Sydney Mitchell:

Is exposed to something. Yeah.

Matthew Brickman:

You know, we may have an interruption, like a normal interruption, like spring break, winter break things. We like , like , what if, oh ,

Sydney Mitchell:

Maybe that's not what I meant.

Matthew Brickman:

Okay . Well go ahead. Ask . All right . So when I explain this, then ask what you meant, so will do . So, so , so for example, I had a , I had a mediation where we were setting up a six month step up plan, but we were setting it up in September. So that means it would run for September, October, November, December, January, February, finally, the

Sydney Mitchell:

Time of the year be doing this <laugh>

Matthew Brickman:

Well, the problem though is, well, what about Thanksgiving break? What about winter break? Like what are we doing for that? And so what we did was we had to build out two sections of their parenting plan that had a safety focus section and then had a regular one, which actually dealt with the holidays because they're not alternating the Thanksgiving break when we're still in the middle of a step up plan, right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> , or we're not doing a week of with , with each parent or half of the winter break when we have a step up plan. So maybe what we do there. And it all depends on what the parties negotiate. Maybe they just follow the regular schedule, or maybe we're just carving out a certain period of time on that day. So maybe in a safety focused parenting plan, Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving day and we're car , no, no pun intended, but we're carving out. Um , we're actually carving out some time that then the parent who is exercising the, the , the step up plan gets some time. It's not an overnight, but they're not just being ignored and they do get to see the child, but then once they get through the step up plan, then fine. Now we're alternating the break, right? Or maybe for Christmas or winter break or whatever holiday that they're exercising. Um, then maybe they get some time on that particular holiday. But then once we get through that, we get a regular parenting plan. And, and there's , there's not the safety focus. Then they're alternating the break, not just the day. And so we would have to build out two different sections. Um , very similar to even don't, don't forget your question, but I I'm gonna come back to it. Even for exchange. Like we may have a particular place, time designation for the exchange of the safety focused parenting plan. So say for example, it's at a facility or it's at a therapist's office will find maybe the , you know, the parent with the child will take the child to and pick the child up. And the parent who is exercising, the safety focused parenting plan is not transporting the child at all, but then we're gonna have to do a different transportation section once they get through the safety focus. Does that make sense? Mm-hmm, <affirmative> Occasionally Sydney and I will be releasing Q & A bonus episodes where we will answer questions and give you a personal shout out.

Sydney Mitchell:

If you have a comment or question regarding anything that we discuss, email us at info@ichatmediation.com that's info@ichatmediation.com and stay tuned to hear your shout out and have your question answered here on the show.

Matthew Brickman:

For more information about my services or to schedule your mediation with me, either in person or using my iChatMediation Virtual Platform built by Cisco Communications. Visit me online at www.iMediateInc.com. Call me at 561-262-9121, Toll-Free at 877-822-1479 or email me at MBrickman@iChatMediation.com.