Child Custody—a Situation Fraught With Emotion
Children are often thrust into the middle of adult problems, such as divorce. The children have little say-so over the outcome of their parent’s divorce as well as which parent will receive primary custody and where they will spend the majority of their time. The attorneys at The Law Place understand the emotions involved in child custody and visitation cases. In situations such as a child custody cases, there is simply no substitute for experience and knowledge of the Florida family legal system. Our attorneys have that experience and knowledge and will use it to your advantage, working with you, within the parameters of Florida law, to negotiate a child custody and visitation agreement which will be beneficial for you and your children.
Child Custody and Visitation in Florida
There may well be as many different custody and parenting time arrangements as there are families in the state of Florida, since the arrangement for each family is meant to be uniquely constructed to be in the best interests of the children as well as addressing the real-life demands of the parents. While in theory most parents certainly want to do what is best for their children, in practice, during the throes of a contentious divorce, this can be a difficult principle to adhere to.
If you and your spouse are unable to come to a mutually acceptable arrangement regarding how parenting will be shared, a family court Judge may step in and make those decisions for you. The attorneys at The Law Place have the experience necessary to guide you through the complex issues associated with child custody, parenting time and shared parental responsibilities. Early involvement by an attorney with The Law Place can make a significant difference in the outcome of your Florida custody case.
Changes in Terminology
In 2008, the Florida Legislature determined the previous terms such as custody and visitation no longer described parental rights properly and that family court should persuade parents—to the extent possible—to be guided by the principles of co-parenting with shared responsibilities between the parents for the children. Ideally, the courts want both parents to be involved in their children’s upbringing and their lives. Therefore, what was once known as child custody is now referred to as parental responsibility to reflect this idea of shared parenting.
Along with the new terminology came the necessity of a cohesive shared Parenting Plan and time-sharing arrangement. Absent evidence to the contrary (drug or alcohol abuse or child abuse or neglect), a judge will assume that each parent is equally interested in how their children are brought up. In order for the time-sharing agreement to be more effectively enforced such arrangements must be extremely detailed.
How the State of Florida Views Child Custody and Visitation
The State of Florida has done away with “traditional” child custody law in favor of flexible parenting plans. The goal of these changes is an attempt to remove the mentality that child custody is all about “winning” and “losing.” Rather than focusing on which parent receives custody and which parent “loses” custody, the idea is to develop a parenting plan which allows parents to share the responsibilities of child rearing.
Florida law—like many state laws regarding child custody and visitation—is meant to ensure that each minor child has frequent, continuing contact with both parents as well as to encourage parents to share the rights, responsibilities and joys of child rearing. In order to create a successful parenting plan, either the parents or the judge will determine the level of parental responsibility for each parent as well as the specifics of time-sharing. In rare situations, the court may determine that sharing the responsibility for the child would be detrimental to the child’s well-being, therefore might order sole parental responsibility.
When a Florida Judge Must Decide on the Designated
Primary Residential Parent
During and after a divorce it is fairly normal for both parents to look for—and likely find—flaws in their ex, then claim those flaws prohibit the other parent from sharing parental responsibility. In actuality, the race for custody is not as clear-cut as it may appear. One parent may believe they are obviously the better parent, yet a judge is not likely to distinguish one parent as “good,” and the other as “bad.”
The exception to this might be when one parent has made some seriously negative life choices, including instances of domestic violence, the use of drugs or alcohol or incarceration. In some instances, even when those factors are present, the court may hold firm in its belief that contact with both parents is still in the best interests of the child. It is generally much better for parents and their attorneys to work out a parenting plan which is at least mostly acceptable to both parties rather than letting a judge—annoyed with parents unable to put their children’s best interests first—make that decision for you.
While the parents will likely enter into an arrangement which splits parental responsibilities, the court or the parents may designate one parent as the primary residential parent. If it is left up to a Court to determine which parent will be the designated primary residential parent, the judge will likely consider the following:
• Which parent will more likely allow the children to continue to have frequent contact with the other (non-residential) parent.
• The love and emotional bonding between the parents and the children.
• Each parent’s ability to provide a stable home as well as necessary items such as medical care, food and clothing.
• The amount of time the children have resided in a stable environment and whether that same environment is necessary to ensure continuity.
• The court will consider the “proposed” home of each parent following the divorce and determine its permanence.
• The “moral fitness” of each parent—this term probably covers many different factors, including any history of drug or alcohol use on the part of the parents as well as the relative job security of each parent and whether extensive travel is necessary for the parent’s job.
• The physical, emotional and mental health of each parent
• The history of the child as far as home, school and community.
• If the child is old enough and mature enough, the judge may ask for his or her preferences in which parent should have the custodial home.
• If there is any evidence of domestic violence or child abuse or neglect, these issues will definitely factor into the determination of the custodial home.
• Parenting tasks historically performed by each parent.
• The extent to which parenting responsibilities were conducted by a third party (babysitter, caregiver, grandparent).
• The extent of the knowledge held of the children by each parent, so far as the children’s schedule, likes and dislikes or medical and school information.
• The ability of each parent to provide a consistent schedule and home life for the children following the divorce.
The Florida Parenting Plan
At a minimum, the Parenting Plan must describe in detail how the parents will share daily tasks associated with the upbringing of the children, the time-sharing schedule which details the times the children will spend with each parent and the methods the parents will use to communicate with the children when they are with the other parent (e-mail, text or telephone). Further, the Parenting Plan should address which parent will be responsible for health care and educational issues including which parent’s address will be used to determine the school the children will attend.
Other than these items—which will be fairly detailed—your Parenting Plan can include anything which is specific to your children and your family. You may want to detail how the children will be picked up and dropped off between parents—and by whom. You will likely want to address holidays, school vacations, summer vacations and birthdays as well. In order to avoid returning to court on a regular basis, the Parenting Plan must be comprehensive, particularly if one parent is likely to throw up a challenge every time an issue is not covered.
Time and Money are Separate Issues in Determining Child Visitation
Many parents who receive—or pay—court-ordered child support patients are under the mistaken belief that child support directly tied to visitation. The parent paying the child support may withhold that support when the other parent denies visitation. The parent receiving the child support may feel he or she can legitimately deny visitation rights when the monthly check is late. In reality, the two issues have nothing to do with one another.
Studies have consistently shown that parents allowed to spend time with their children are much more likely to keep up with their child support obligations; the parent who feels like they are punishing the other for not paying support is, in all actuality, only hurting their children. So long as the parent paying child support is employed, then wages can be garnished in the event of non-payment, or a driver’s license or professional license can be revoked. Parents who truly want to spend time with their children will generally meet their financial obligations, but even when they don’t, it may still be to the good of your children to allow visitation.
Modifications to Parental Responsibilities and the Parenting Plan
Once the primary residential parent is established, time-sharing is set out and the Parenting Plan is in place, you may hope you never have to return to court again. Unfortunately, as your children grow older and change, these issues will likely have to be addressed. In other cases, one parent may seek to modify the established arrangement if there are changes in job duties or other issues related to the other parent.
As an example, if one parent has significant blocks of time-sharing, but leaves the children with a sitter because he or she is now required to travel extensively for a job, the other parent may request the children stay with them instead. To support any motion for modification, the parent submitting the motion must show a significant change in circumstances. If you and your spouse are in agreement on changes to the Parenting Plan, you will likely only have to submit the changes and a judge will sign off on them. If the safety of your children is at hand, your attorney can assist you in filing an emergency motion to protect the children.
How The Law Place Can Help
The attorneys at The Law Place want to help you with your Parenting Plan and the determination of primary residential parent. We understand that emotions run deep during issues related to children and are sensitive to your feelings about anything which affect your children. We can help you and your ex work out a parenting plan which is fair to all those involved, as well as one that will adapt and adjust as your children grow older and their activities and interests change. If there is evidence of child abuse or child neglect on the part of the child’s other parent, we will help you clearly present those facts to the judge. We have extensive experience negotiating parenting issues during a divorce and a deep knowledge of Florida law pertaining to these issues.