Child custody is often one of the most contested and emotionally wrought issues in divorce cases in which children are involved, and the same holds true for custody disputes where the parents were never married. This should come as no surprise, as parents are often fiercely protective of their relationship with their children and have strong opinions about the way they are raised.
Florida law has done away with the terms “physical custody” and “legal custody” and replaced them with “time-sharing” and “parental responsibility.” These terms still refer to the same concepts, which involve how much time that a child spends with a particular parent and the right to make decisions about issues such as religion, education, or healthcare for your child. Because these issues can be extremely complicated and hotly contested, it is important for anyone involved in a custody dispute to speak to an attorney as soon as possible.
Florida law requires courts to make child custody determinations in the best interests of the child. The stated public policy of the state is 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 child rearing.” In addition, courts are required to order shared parental responsibility unless they determine that shared parental responsibility is not in the best interests of the child.
In determining the best interests of the child, the court will consider a number of factors, including the following:
While the court will consider these factors when determining an arrangement regarding time-sharing and parental responsibilities, the parents also have the opportunity to provide input. Whenever time-sharing is at issue, parents must submit a parenting plan that addresses these issues as well as specific matters related to the way they will share parenting responsibilities. The court is free to accept this plan as it is or come up with an alternative plan that it deems is in the best interests of the child. As a practical matter, however, courts will often accept reasonable parenting plans if the parents are able to agree on time-sharing and allocation of parental responsibilities. As a result, it is often in both parents’ interest to agree on a parenting plan, as doing so will reduce the uncertainty involved in having the court decide one for them.
Child custody disputes are often complicated, and courts have significant discretion in determining how to resolve them. For this reason, anyone involved in a proceeding in which time-sharing or parental responsibilities are contested should speak to a child custody lawyer as soon as possible.