Child custody refers to the rights and obligations between parents, regarding their children, after a divorce or paternity decree.
In cases involving children, a parenting plan will be ordered, whether by agreement or after a hearing. The Florida courts have done away with “custody” designations. A parenting plan designates who will be responsible for making decisions for the children, and describe the schedule of time that each parent is entitled to spend with the children. Generally, it is a child’s best interest to spend substantial and meaningful time with both parents, and for the parents to share decision making for their children. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.
There are times when equal time sharing, or effective co-parenting is not possible. There are a number of factors that the Court will consider in making difficult decisions on time sharing and parental responsibility. The primary focus and intention of the Court is doing what is in the child’s best interests.
If your case involves children, you and the other parent will be required to attend a parenting class. This may seem like a chore, but it is an opportunity to learn what it means, and how, to effectively co-parent without being a couple.
Factors Determining Outcome
If you have ever been involved in a child custody case or you are about to begin one you most likely have heard the phrase “best interests of the child.” Florida determines time sharing and parental decision making based on the best interests of the child standard.
Florida statute 61.13 provides the factors that the Court considers when making decisions about the parenting plan and time sharing:
(a) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.
(b) The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.
(c) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.
(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
(e) The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.
(f) The moral fitness of the parents.
(g) The mental and physical health of the parents.
(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.
(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
(j) The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things.
(k) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.
(l) The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child.
(m) Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child.
(n) Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.
(o) The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.
(p) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.
(q) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.
(r) The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.
(s) The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.
(t) Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.
The factors seem straight forward, but applying your circumstances and preparing a case that shows the judge why what you are asking for is in your children’s best interests requires experience and knowledge of the law and procedure. You do not want to risk your involvement in your children’s lives by proceeding without legal representation.
Your attorney will advise you on what you can do to benefit your children and promote your case. There may be simple, but effective actions to take to demonstrate your commitment to your children, document events that can promote your case, or make your life and co-parenting easier.