Child custody disputes in Florida divorces

Florida child custody law looks at the child’s best interests.

Nothing is more important than a child's well being, which is why Florida and other states elevate the child's best interest in determination of child custody and visitation arrangements. Not much is harder in life than for a parent to face a divorce with uncertainty about his or her future relationship with a son or daughter, but getting an experienced Florida family lawyer on board as early as possible can help alleviate stress and begin to help shape outcomes.

Divorce negotiations

If possible, it is usually to negotiate matters of custody and visitation, called time-sharing in Florida. Specifically, the agreement should set out how important life decisions like those concerning health, education, religion and so on, will be made (jointly or solely by one parent); and include a custody and visitation schedule.

While it will require compromise, if they do not together craft an agreement, the court will have to do so instead, and they will have little control over how the judge sees the situation, although they can submit evidence.

Even when the parties agree on a parenting plan, it must be submitted to the Florida judge handling the divorce. While most custody stipulations are approved by the court to become part of the divorce decree, the judge must first review the agreement to ascertain that it is in the child's best interest.

Judicial custody decision-making

If it is not, the judge could fashion a different arrangement under Florida law. To help determine the child's best interests, the judge may order a family study to inform the court of the specific circumstances involved.

The public policy of the state of Florida also influences judicial decisions concerning custody. Specifically, the state supports the continuing co-parenting of children, and ongoing contact with both parents after divorce or separation when possible and in the children's interest. Statute directs the judge to grant shared parental responsibility for a minor child, including decision-making and time with the child, unless it would be "detrimental" for the child. (The law specifies specific procedures and considerations if a parent has a conviction for domestic violence.)

However, if it is not in a child's best interest to have his or her parents share decision-making and custody (such as in instances of domestic violence), the judge may grant either solely to one parent, even to the point of not allowing visitation if it is best for the child.

Florida law also provides that there is no presumption for or against a father or mother in time-sharing decisions.

All relevant factors determine the child's best interest

To discern the best interests of a child in a custody determination, Florida statute directs the judge to evaluate all factors that impact the child's "welfare and interests," including, but not limited to, a specific list of 20 factors:

  • Parental capacity to facilitate a close, on-going relationship with the other parent, maintain any time-sharing schedule and handle change reasonably
  • Anticipated division of parental responsibility, considering delegation to third parties also
  • Parental ability to put the child's needs above his or her own
  • Desirability of continuity of the current living environment
  • "Geographic viability" of a parenting plan, especially considering travel time for young children
  • Parents' "moral fitness"
  • Parental mental and physical health
  • Child's preferences, if sufficiently mature
  • Child's "home, school, and community record"
  • Domestic or sexual violence; child abuse or neglect
  • Parental involvement in child's school and activities
  • Parental ability to maintain consistent routine, including discipline
  • Parental capacity to keep informed about important people and things in child's world
  • Capacity to communicate with the other parent about the child and "willingness ... to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child"
  • Knowing provision of false information about violence or abuse to the court
  • Previous and current division of parental responsibilities, including those performed by third parties
  • History of parental environment for child free of substance abuse
  • Parental shielding of child from ongoing divorce and refraining from criticizing other parent in front of child
  • Child's developmental needs and parental ability to meet them
  • Any other relevant factor to the parenting plan

This article only introduces the complex area of Florida law that is custody and visitation. A knowledgeable divorce attorney like one from Matthew Land & Associates, P.A., with three offices in the Palm Beach area, can answer questions and advise a parent about his or her particular situation.

Keywords: child custody, Florida, divorce, visitation, time-sharing, parenting plan, judge, court, best interest, factor, parent

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