Divorcing in Florida
For both married and unmarried couples nationwide, parents decide to divorce for various reasons. The divorce rate is at 16.9% in Florida, meaning that just over 1 in 6 couples decide to file for divorce. Divorce, or the dissolution of marriage, is often a complicated process for the entire family, including the parents and any children. An uncontested divorce can take about one (1) month to finalize, while a contested divorce can take as long as twelve (12) months or even a few years. Part of this process involves settling child custody agreements with the court. This article explains how Florida law decides child custody and related topics such as child support and time-sharing.
What is Custody?
Florida law defines custody as parental responsibility. When a couple files for divorce, the court awards parental responsibility to one parent. Most other states define custody as legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions for the child. This decision-making power includes having a say in the child’s education or activities. Physical custody refers to providing the primary home for the child where they live. Unlike these other states, Florida does not use the term “custody” when it comes to divorce matters. Instead, Florida decides to refer to custody as parental responsibility. Part of this parental responsibility is abiding by a parenting plan. When a custody trial ends, a judge creates arrangements and ensures they are in the child’s best interests. At this time, the court finalizes a time-sharing plan and agreement.
Getting Custody of a Child
The first step to reaching a custody agreement is filing a custody case that a judge will review in court. Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes states that Florida courts do not prefer the mother or father regarding custody agreements. Judges view both parents equally and make their decisions based on various other factors including, but not limited to, the following:
- Parent’s willingness to care for the child
- Child’s personal preference
- School, home, and community environments of the child
- Any history of abuse, including domestic abuse, sexual abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect
- The mental, physical, and emotional fitness of the parents
- The capacity of each parent to be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities
- The unique developmental stage and needs of the child
- The geographic viability of the custodial parent
Battling for Custody
Proper preparation for a custody battle can increase the likelihood of favorable arrangements from the judge. For example, working with a custody lawyer can offer legal assistance with family and domestic issues. Other than speaking with a lawyer, there are other steps that parents can take in preparation. The following explains some of such possible actions to take:
- Spending a lot of time with the child
- Showing active involvement in the child’s education, health, and other matters
- Demonstrating good parenting skills such as adequate supervision and discipline
- Ensuring that the environment around the child is kept clean and safe
Parenting Plans for Child Custody
When a couple divorces, a parenting plan is created and validated by the court. A complete parenting plan outlines custody rules, including time-sharing with minor children. There are specific minimum requirements that the parenting plan must adequately describe:
- How the involved parties will be responsible for daily tasks regarding the upbringing
- A precise time-sharing schedule that specifies how much time each parent will spend with their minor children
- A designation of responsibilities regarding healthcare, education, schooling, and other activities
- The methods by which parents will communicate with their children
This plan must be approved by the court and agreed to by both parents. By agreeing, parents are also vowing to respect the rules of time-sharing. Time-sharing plans are individual to each household per the parents’ and children’s needs. However, the child’s best interest will outweigh the parent’s preferences.
Time Sharing Violations
Violating the rules of time-sharing can result in some form of retribution by the court. Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes lists the possible penalties which can be applied. These include the following:
- The parent who did not receive their proper allotment of time-sharing would receive a sufficient amount of extra time. The court will schedule make-up time-sharing in a manner that is in the child’s best interests.
- Paying reasonable court costs and attorney’s fees that the non-offending parent incurs
- Attending a parenting course approved by the judicial circuit
- Performing community service
- Provide the child transportation and frequent contact with the non-offending parent, should the non-offending parent live 60 miles or more away. In addition, they bear any financial costs which result from providing frequent contact.
- Agree to any modifications made to the time-sharing arrangements. Changes will take into account the best interests of the child.
- Being subject to other reasonable sanctions
Any parent guilty of domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, or other crimes will lose their time-sharing privileges (Fla. Stat. 61.125).
Child Custody and Unmarried Parents
Unmarried and married parents receive different considerations in court. For married parents, Florida courts have no preference for mother or father. Equal preference is not the case when unmarried parents decide to separate. Mothers automatically get custodial rights to their children at birth. Fathers must provide evidence of a DNA paternity test if they want the same parental responsibility rights. If both parents are the child’s biological parents, both parties can be legally termed “parent.”
If a father fails to provide evidence of paternity, however, he cannot attain legal rights to the child. The reasoning stems from the mother having legal custody at birth. Therefore, an unmarried mother has more protection than an unwed father regarding custody matters.
Contact Pride Legal
If you or a loved one is seeking help with child custody, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for legal counseling or any further questions. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.