In Florida, courts may award shared parental responsibility, sole parental responsibility and ultimate decision making authority. Florida courts prefer to award shared parental decision making.
Shared parental responsibility means that parents are required to attempt to confer and reach agreement on major issues that affect the welfare of their children. Major decisions include the children’s education, extra-curricular activities, healthcare, social and religious training and general welfare. In the event that parents are unable to reach agreement on a major issue that affects the welfare of their child, the issue can then be resolved by the trial court.
Sole parental responsibility means that one parent can unilaterally make decisions on behalf of the parties’ child without consulting with the other parent. A Florida Court will award sole parental responsibility when the court determines that shared parental decision making would be detrimental to a child’s best interests.
Ultimate parental responsibility means that the court grants a party decision making authority over certain aspects of the child’s life. Areas of responsibility can include, health care, education, and other decisions that affect the child’s welfare.
In a recent child custody and visitation case captioned De La Fe v. De La Fe, the Former Husband, Steven De La Fe, and the Former Wife, Davihana De La Fe, were married in 2009. During the course of their marriage, they had two children. An evidentiary hearing was held in this matter, and the Former Husband and Former Wife were divorced in July 2020. The Former Husband brought an appeal contesting several parts of the final judgment granting the parties’ dissolution of marriage.
The final judgment of dissolution of marriage stated that it was in the best interests of the parties’ children for parental responsibility to be shared by the Former Husband and the Former Wife. It also ordered the Former Husband and the Former Wife to attempt to jointly make decisions concerning the welfare of the parties’ children. The final judgment also granted the Former Wife ultimate decision-making authority. The standard of review that the appellate court applied in reviewing this time-sharing order was abuse of discretion.
The final judgment of dissolution marriage in De La Fe v. De La Fe did not award shared parental responsibility to the Former Husband because it awarded ultimate decision-making authority to the Former Wife on all of the major issues on which the parties were unable to agree. A final judgment of dissolution of marriage may not award sole parental responsibility to a parent unless it contains a specific finding that it would be detrimental to the best interests of the children for the parties to have shared parental responsibility. Since the final judgment of dissolution of marriage in this case did not contain a specific finding that it would be detrimental to the best interests of the children for both parents to have shared parental responsibility, the final judgment of dissolution of marriage awarding sole parental responsibility was required to be reversed.
The Florida Court of Appeal stated that lower court erred in awarding the Former Wife ultimate decision-making authority without making a specific finding that it would be detrimental to the best interests of the parties’ two minor children to have shared parental responsibility. Although the trial court may have thought that providing one of the parents with tie-breaking authority was the same as awarding sole parental responsibility to that parent, Florida law makes it clear that this is not the case.
Accordingly, the Florida Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s final judgment of dissolution of marriage because it awarded ultimate decision-making authority to the Former Wife without making sufficient findings of fact. The Florida Court of Appeal remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions to either make sufficient findings of fact supporting an award of sole parental responsibility to the Former Wife, or award of shared parental responsibility to the Former Husband and the Former Wife.
To speak with a West Palm Beach divorce lawyer to discuss time-sharing and parental responsibility, contact the Lane Law Firm, P.A. at (561) 363-3400.