Perhaps one of the most contentious components of a divorce centers around child custody. Parents have a unique and powerful bond with their children, and when faced with the prospect of restricted contact with those children they can go into “battle mode.” Custody cases can be extremely stressful, may go on for months and months, can cost both parents financially, and can end up being downright mean and vengeful. If you and your spouse are simply not able to reach an amicable agreement regarding the sharing of parental responsibilities, you could be forced to go to trial.
In the past, it was generally assumed the mother would get primary custody of the children, however things have changed and the Florida court system strives to find a solution which is in the best interests of the children. The attorneys at The Law Place can help you with your custody battle. We understand that this is a very emotional time, and we will spend the necessary time, listening to what you want and why. Our experience and knowledge of Florida child custody laws can greatly affect the outcome of your custody battle.
Proving You are the Better Parent
Florida family law rarely uses the term “custody” anymore, preferring to refer to it as “shared parental responsibility.” Only in rare cases will a judge determine one parent will have no contact with the children. In cases of child abuse, domestic violence or a severe drug or alcohol problem on the part of one parent, contact with the children may be limited or supervised. One important thing to remember is that simply telling the judge you are the better parent will not result in your gaining primary parental responsibility for your children.
A better tactic will be to show the judge you are the more involved parent by keeping careful records of which parent attends school activities, interacts with the children’s teachers, takes the children to the doctor and dentists, takes the children to church or supervises their homework in the evening. This will show you are actively engaged with the lives of your children on a day-to-day basis.
The same goes for showing the court your spouse is a poor parent. Just saying he or she is not an engaged, hands-on parent is not enough. If there is any evidence associated with your spouse’s criminal history, a history of drug use, a work schedule which does not allow time spent with the children, a history of engaging in activities which could be dangerous to children, a history of mental illness or instances of bringing partners home for “overnight visits” when the children are present, document these issues to present to the judge.
How the Judge May Award Child Custody
The court will look at a number of factors when determining how parental responsibilities will be shared. These factors include:
• What type of character each parent has, and the level of responsibility shown by each parent in the past in raising the children.
• Which parent can provide the most stable home life in order to meet the children’s needs
• The history of the children with each parent, including the level of warmth, affection and love between parent and children.
• The amount of time the children have lived in the family home, and to what extent the judge believes that stability should be maintained.
• If the child is old enough, the judge may consider his or her wishes.
• How willing each parent is to encourage a loving relationship between the other parent and the children.
• The physical and mental health of each parent, as well as special physical or emotional needs of any of the children.
• The relationship enjoyed by the child with all family members
• What the children need materially-speaking.
• Any evidence of domestic violence or child abuse.
Florida law requires a mandatory parenting course for both parents prior to the finalization of the divorce. An award of shared parental responsibility allows both parents to make and approve all major decisions related to the children such as medical decisions, educational decisions, and religious upbringing. If one parent is named the primary joint custodian, this means the children actually live with that parent and have visitation with the other. In this case, the parent with primary parental responsibility will make medical, educational and religious upbringing decisions.
What if the Primary Joint Custodian Parent Wishes to Relocate?
If both parents sign a written agreement, then a parent who wishes to relocate can do so. If the other parent refuses to sign such an agreement, the court will be required to make the decision as to whether or not the parent can relocate. The parent who wishes to relocate must submit a compelling argument to do so if the other parent vigorously opposes the move. Perhaps the move is to secure much better employment (which would be better for the children financially) or to move closer to family members who could help with child care and avoid having the children spend time at daycare or with babysitters. If the court agrees to the move, a time-sharing schedule for the non-relocating parent must be submitted as well as transportation arrangements related to this time-sharing. Additionally, the petition to relocate must include the date of the intended move, the address, telephone number and description of the new residence and a full statement describing reasons for the move.
What You Must Do Prior to Engaging in a Custody Battle
If you currently drink, smoke marijuana, or use any other illicit drugs—even occasionally or socially—stop now. This may seem like a no-brainer, but surprisingly many parents who desperately want custody of their children don’t see these behaviors as negative. Like it or not, use of such substances reflect negatively on your ability to parent. Next, stop all e-mailing, texting or otherwise contacting the other parent unless you only have something nice to say. Many parents end up hurting their custody case because of poorly-thought-out written communications, and such communications can be admitted as evidence in court during your custody trial.
Make sure you remain very involved with your children; attend sports events, after-school events and parent-teacher conferences. Know the name of your children’s doctors and dentists—in other words make it very obvious to the judge that you are an important, constant part of your children’s lives. If the children are with you during the custody trial, stay home with them. You may think it is harmless to go out with friends or with a date, leaving the kids with a sitter, but one night of fun can really come back to bite you. If your work hours are crazy, see if you can change them, at least temporarily to hours that mesh with your children’s school and activities. Get rid of your Facebook and Twitter accounts until the custody trial is over. You would be surprised how many divorces and custody battles have been “sunk” by social media. In short, anything negative in your life can be documented and presented in court, so live your life as though your children are the very most important part of that life—and hopefully that is actually the case.
Battling over child custody can put great strain on every family member. Parents need to truly consider the best interests of the children as well as the impact a court battle will have on the emotional health of the children. If you feel there is no alternative to going to court for custody, then The Law Place attorneys want to help you. We have experience and the skills necessary to fight aggressively for the best interests of your children.