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Determining Child Custody in Florida

Although most people are accustomed to thinking in terms of “custody” and “visitation,” Florida law does not use that terminology. Instead, Florida courts determine parental responsibility and time sharing. While the factors considered in making these determinations are similar to those applied in the old “custody and visitation” system, the new language reflects the view that both parents remain responsible for their children after separation, divorce, or whatever circumstances have led them to seek a court order.

The goal, under Florida law, is to preserve the children’s relationships with both parents and encourage the parents to continue to share responsibility, unless one of those relationships would be harmful to the children. In fact, the statute explicitly states:

It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.

Parental Responsibility in Florida

“Parental responsibility” describes the parents’ right and obligation to make decisions and take action on behalf of the children in areas such as education and medical care. By default, parental responsibility is shared. The court may grant full parental responsibility to one parent and exclude the other only on a finding that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child. The court may, however, grant decision-making power in a particular area to one parent.

This division of responsibility may arise out of an agreement between the parents, or may be ordered by the court to avoid anticipated conflicts. For example, if one parent has taken the child to see a therapist to help him or her adjust to the changes brought about by divorce and the other parent does not believe in this type of therapy, the court may place discretion in the hands of one parent to prevent deadlock or repeated conflict.

By law, both parents have access to school records, medical records, and other similar information unless the court has specifically revoked that right. This access is not dependent on parental responsibility.

Time Sharing in Florida Custody Cases

Time sharing is Florida’s current approach to what was once known as physical custody and visitation. In simplest terms, time-sharing arrangements determine how much time each parent has with the children and when. The primary consideration in determining a time-sharing schedule will be the best interest of the children. The best interests analysis takes many factors into account, including:

  • The ability and inclination of each parent to maintain a relationship with the child or children
  • Each parent’s mental and physical health
  • Each parent’s “moral fitness”
  • The caretaking responsibilities of each parent prior to the separation
  • Any history of domestic violence or other abuse
  • The stability of each parent’s environment
  • The reasonable preferences of a child the court determines to be of sufficient intelligent, experience and understanding to express a preference
  • Substance abuse issues involving either parent or their environments

Every Child Custody Case is Different

Although the statute creates a presumption in favor of shared parental responsibility and shared parenting time, the final determination will be based on what is best for the children. Since every marriage, every divorce, and every parent-child relationship is different, the analysis will vary from case to case. Contact us at Stokes Law today, as an experienced child custody attorney can be your best source of information about what you can expect in terms of parenting responsibility and time sharing, and how you can positively impact the outcome of your case.

The sooner you get professional guidance, the better. Just call (727) 954-0186right now, or fill out our contact form to request a consultation.

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