Child Custody Laws in Florida
How Children Really Feel About Divorce
Some rather alarming statistics regarding divorce and how it affects children were revealed in The Truth About Children and Divorce. Seventy-three percent of grown children stated their lives would have been different if their parents had not divorced, and nearly half of the same people believed they had a much harder childhood than most, because of the divorce. Forty-eight percent spoke at length about how they had missed their father while growing up. A third of these adults felt their childhood had been cut short because of their parent’s divorce, and about half believed they were still experiencing problems in their lives as a result of the divorce, despite the fact they were now adults. For parents who have either already gone through a divorce or are headed for a divorce, there are ways to minimize the harm the children experience during a divorce, however it requires that both parents make decisions based solely on the best interests of the children. (Which, by the way is the governing principle behind Florida child custody laws). Obviously, this is not always easy to accomplish. Divorcing parents who communicate calmly with one another, express their emotions appropriately, and always have their children’s future uppermost in their minds when making decisions, are actually few and far between.
Consider, however, that children have absolutely no say in such things as the divorce itself, where they live or go to school after the divorce, or how often they see their other parent. As a result, many children of divorcing or divorced parents end up feeling powerless, anxious and afraid. Parents who are locked into a never-ending struggle, bickering continuously over divorce and custody issues may really not understand that the future of their child could be taken out of their hands by a Florida judge.
While the judge is bound by Florida laws to make decisions based on the best interests of the child, his or her determination of your child’s best interests may be far different from you own. If divorcing parents could consider they might be turning complete control of their child’s future to a judge who doesn’t know the child or the family, they might try harder to come to a mutually acceptable child custody agreement. The more familiar you are with Florida child custody laws, the more likely you will be to reach an agreement with your ex that at least partially satisfies everyone involved. For any questions not answered in these pages, your Florida child custody attorney can be an invaluable resource during your custody dispute—and one you should take full advantage of.
Terminology Changes Reflect Courts Desires for Florida Child Custody
The Florida Legislature came to the conclusion in 2008 that terms such as “visitation” and “custody” no longer accurately described the goals of family court. Florida courts want divorcing parents to both stay involved in their children’s lives, therefore the term “parental responsibility” was implemented as a way of reflecting the concept of shared parenting. A comprehensive Parenting Plan, as well as a time-sharing agreement are pieces of the parental responsibility puzzle. Absent any substance abuse or child abuse or neglect on the part of either parent, a Florida judge will make the assumption each parent is equally interested in the upbringing of the child or children. Time-sharing agreements and Parenting Plans are intended to be extremely detailed in order to be most effective.
Could Mediation Work for You During Your Child Custody Dispute?
If it seems to be impossible for your ex and you to reach a mutually acceptable agreement regarding Parenting Plans, primary custodial parent and time sharing agreement, rather than leave those decisions to the court, you might decide to consider mediation instead. Mediation allows parents to feel like they are both being heard by a neutral third party who will work with the parents to find a middle ground that works for all those involved. In a mediated agreement, there is the ability to have input and have your voice heard, while if the decisions are left to the judge, you will be stuck with those decisions regardless of your feelings about them.
The expense of hiring an unbiased mediator to assist the parents in reaching a mutually acceptable Parenting Plan and time-sharing agreement will probably cost less in the long run, as well as preventing more negative feelings between the two parents. Further, litigation can make the children feel as though they must take sides, while mediation can reach much more peaceful agreements. Everything said in mediation sessions is confidential, and, as an added bonus, the mediator will generally assist the parents in filing the required paperwork in a Florida court.
Primary Residential Parent May Be Designated by a Florida Judge
- Which parent is more likely to be able to provide a stable home life;
- Which parent is more likely to be able to provide medical care, clothing and food;
- Which parent is more likely to allow the children to have frequent contact with the other parent;
- The level of emotional bonding between each parent and the child or children;
- Which parent was awarded the marital home, and how important it is that the children remain in their home to provide stability;
- If the marital home is to be sold, the judge will consider where both parents will live after the divorce, taking into consideration the permanence of the living arrangements;
- Whether either parent has a history of drug or alcohol use;
- Whether either parent is required to travel extensively for his or her job;
- Whether one or both parents have job security in their current employment;
- Whether both parents are physically, emotionally and mentally healthy;
- Each child’s history, including the schools they have attended and the community they have resided in;
- Which parenting tasks were generally performed by each parent;
- The extent to which babysitters, caregivers, grandparents or other family members share parenting responsibilities;
- If either parent has a history of child neglect or abuse, this will definitely be taken into account;
- How much each parent actually knows about the child or children, as far as the child’s friends, likes, dislikes, school information, medical information, etc.;
- Which parent is most likely to be able to provide the most stable home life for the children following the divorce, and
- For children the judge considers old enough and mature enough, the child’s preferences as far as primary custodial parent may be taken into consideration.
How the Child’s History Has a Bearing on Primary Custodial Parent Designation
Many parents wonder how the court judges their moral character. The fact is, consenting adults can do anything they choose to do so long as those choices do not adversely affect the children. Anything out of the ordinary which either parent engages in, may have an effect on the children. It is during this phase of the child custody case that the most “mud” is generally thrown at one another as parents may question the moral character of one another, or question whether the other parent is physically or mentally able to care for the children. This part of the custody hearing can be very damaging for all those involved.
How the Florida Parenting Plan Factors into Child Custody
When the parents are able to sit down and work out a comprehensive Parenting Plan, everybody involved is likely to be happier with the outcome than if the court puts a Parenting Plan together. The Florida Parenting Plan describes in detail how the parents will share everyday tasks associated with raising children.
A time-sharing schedule will clearly lay out how much time the child or children will spend with each parent, when that time will occur, how the pickups and drop-offs will be accomplished, and the methods of communication which will be used between parents and children and the parents themselves. Parenting Plans also typically address which parent will be responsible for the education and healthcare, and which parent’s address will be used for the school. Holidays, summer vacations, school vacations and birthdays are also addressed in the Florida Parenting Plan.
What if Modifications to the Parenting Plan Become Necessary?
When the final Parenting Plan and time-sharing agreement took a considerable amount of time emotions to hammer out, it is likely both parents hope they will never have to revisit those documents again. However, as children grow older and their interests change, those hopes will likely be dashed. There are many different reasons a Parenting Plan or time-sharing agreement could require modification.
As an example, one parent may have experienced significant changes in his or her job duties, which requires overtime, or perhaps must travel out of town much more often as a job requirement. If one parent currently has significant blocks of time sharing, but often leaves the child or children with a sitter, the other parent may want to change the time-sharing agreement so the children can stay with them instead. Any motion for modification of a time-sharing agreement or Parenting Plan must show a significant change in circumstances in order for the judge to grant the modification.
Generally speaking, if both parents agree about the proposed modifications, the judge is likely to sign off on them. If one parent feels their child’s safety is at issue, his or her attorney can help file an emergency motion to ensure the children are protected, then later modifications can be requested to reflect the concern about the safety of the children.
Time and Money—Separate Issues in a Florida Child Custody Agreement
Many parents who receive court-ordered child support, or those who pay court-ordered child support mistakenly believe those monthly checks are tied to visitation rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. When the non-paying parent denies visitation rights, the paying parent may decide to stop sending child support until the or she is allowed to see the children. Under Florida law, the paying parent must continue to send child support checks, and deal with the refusal of the other parent to grant court-ordered visitation through the court system. By the same token, if the paying parent does not send a check one month, the non-paying parent may not withhold visitation until the check arrives. Visitation must continue as ordered, and the child support issue addressed through the proper channels. In the end, parents who want to spend time with their children will generally try to meet their parental financial obligations, however even if he or she does not, visitation is still probably the best thing for the children.
Factors a Court Uses to Determine Custody
How a Florida Family Law Attorney Can Help
Florida laws are meant to ensure each minor child has frequent, continuing contact with both parents as well as to encourage parents to share the responsibilities of child-rearing. In Florida child custody cases, there is no substitute for experience and knowledge of the Florida family legal system. A skilled Florida family law attorney will use his or her experience and knowledge to the parent’s advantage, working within the parameters of Florida laws to negotiate a child custody and visitation agreement which will benefit all those involved.
How Ayo and Iken Can Help
Going through a divorce is difficult, even under the best circumstances, and when there are children, those difficulties multiply exponentially. It is important to remember that your children do not have to become yet another sad statistic of divorced parents. The decisions made by you and your ex now can have an enormous effect on how well your children will come through this transition. Having an experienced Ayo and Iken Florida family law attorney with the necessary knowledge of Florida laws by your side is essential. Your attorney will ensure your rights and the rights of your children are fully protected during and after your divorce, and truly cares about the future of your children.