One Sentence will Turn Florida Custody Law Inside Out

By Attorney Howard Iken: There is one sentence in the new Florida Alimony Law, about to be passed, that will throw out a decade of custody decisions:

“Equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is in the best interest of the child”

babyQuite a bit has been reported on the proposed change in alimony, but the really big change is tucked in the bill. It is a blockbuster of a change and will affect every divorce and custody case in the State of Florida.  The sentence establishes the default view of a court – in the absence of bigger facts. In other words if all normal facts are equal, the court is directed by statute to order equal time sharing. This is a HUGE change that puts us at the conclusion of a timeline that began approximately 6 years ago.

At the beginning of the timeline there was “primary residential and secondary residential” custody. One place where the children sleep and the other place where they visit on a periodic basis. We also called the primary parent the custodial parent. The secondary parent was called the non-custodial parent. The secondary parent had “visitation.” There was even a “standard visitation schedule.”

The standard Weekend Dad schedule: Every other weekend from Friday night to Sunday early eve, and one dinner period in the in-between weeks.

Then the State of Florida made a huge change. The terms primary and secondary were eliminated from the statutes. The term “custody” was eliminated. Each parent was called a “parent.” A document called a “parenting plan” was created and required in every case. And there was a general, fuzzy encouragement to involve both parents in the children’s lives.  Despite the change life went on as usual in the court system. Judges used to the old system continued to impose the old system.

In the year or two that followed the change many courts stopped publishing the “Standard Visitation Schedule.” A new crop of judges elected to the bench started ordering “Rotating Custody,” another term for 50/50 or equal parenting time. There began to be a division of judges that believed in 50/50 and ones that were more old fashioned. Depending on your “luck of the draw” with a selected judge – you were aware of what the probable outcome was.

In the last year it became extremely common to encounter 50/50 judges. Many attorneys recognized this and began to counsel their clients accordingly. However there still were many judges that prefer the old patterns.

If the new Florida custody law passes (a/k/a new alimony law), custody in Florida will become almost uniformly 50/50. There will still be situations that demand different and judges will have the ability to order different from the statute. But the balance will tilt toward equal parent time. And child support will go away as we know it.

Stay tuned for more analysis and commentary on the new law.

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