Florida Child Custody Laws: What You Need to Know

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“Divorce is never a pleasant experience. You look upon it as a failure. But I learned to be a different person once we broke up. Sometimes you learn more from failure than you do from success.”

Michael Crawford 

The most vulnerable party in any divorce is children. While grownups who decide to dissolve their irretrievable marriage have a chance to get rid of extra stress once they are separated, children may suffer from detrimental aftermath if issues concerning their future are not resolved properly. Therefore, child custody disputes must be paid the closest attention to in the divorce process, outbalancing any disagreements on property and other assets. Unfortunately, couples are not always able to resolve such issues on their own, which necessitates the involvement of the judge. In such cases, the judge will consider child’s best interests in the first place as well as offer the right plan aimed at protecting both parents’ rights. It should be noted that the traditional bias towards mothers may still be present in Florida courts. Nevertheless, child custody laws have undergone a tremendous evolution recently, providing equal rights to both parents, without any designation of primary custodial parent and visiting parent. Nowadays, such cases are analyzed scrupulously, trying to develop a just parenting plan that shares children’s time as equally as possible between fathers and mothers. Again, all issues are closely considered, prioritizing the child’s best interests.

Florida Custody Laws

Today’s courts postulate that children have more benefits from constant contact with both parents even after the divorce. Therefore, Florida family laws do not grant any advantages to either party, designating mothers as the primary custodians as it once used to be. Instead, both parents are provided equal custodial rights as much as it is possible and reasonable in each specific situation, putting child’s best interests on the first place.

Here are the key aspects you need to know about child custody laws in Florida:

  • Child custody laws apply to minor children, those under the age of 18, and the ones dependent on their parents financially due to any mental or physical condition.
  • Florida courts do not use “custody” and “visitation” terms, being guided by “timesharing” and “parental responsibility” issues instead, both of which are established in a parenting plan.
  • Parental responsibility refers to making important decisions on children’s education, health care, and religion. It can be either shared, when both parents have equal rights in the stated issues, or sole, when one of the spouses has more power in making decisions. Although joint parental responsibility is more favored by the Florida laws, in case it may have a negative influence on children, the judge may grant one of the parents sole custody.
  • Timesharing came to replace the term of “physical custody,” which refers to the time spent with children and who takes care of them on a daily basis. Again, the court views joint custody as being more beneficial for a child. However, evidence of abuse, neglect, or domestic violence would be the ground for limiting this schedule for one of the parents and granting the majority time or even sole custody to another party.
  • Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is the law that applies to all the cases that involve custody proceedings.
  • Minor or dependent children involved in custody proceedings must meet the residency requirement, which means that they must have lived in the state of Florida for at least the last six months.
  • Florida custody laws equally apply to couples who are dissolving their marriage as well as to separating partners who have never been married.

Issues Considered in Parenting Plan

In cases with custody Florida courts issue a so-called Parenting Plan, a document that outlines all the responsibilities, decision authorities, time sharing, and the rest of the related arrangements. As it has been stressed before, the court puts the children’s needs and requirements on the first place and makes the final decision on the basis of their best interests. For this, a judge considers both parents’ contribution into their kid’s development and happiness as well as willingness, readiness, and capability to put their needs first. More specifically, the following factors are normally taken into consideration:

  • Both parents’ moral fitness;
  • Both parents’ physical and mental health;
  • Parents’ ability to maintain a close relationship with children;
  • Parent’s willingness and readiness to foster a close relationship between children and the other parent;
  • Parents’ ability to restrain from degrading comments about the other parent in communication with the children;
  • Any specific parental responsibilities and the ability to fulfil them;
  • Both partners’ ability to commit to parental responsibilities and time-sharing schedule and to adapt to any changes if needed;
  • Parents’ ability to consider children’s needs and to put them before their own;
  • The time children have lived in a stable environment;
  • Children’s preferences;
  • Children’s developmental stages and specific needs;
  • Children’s records at home, at school, in the community, etc.;
  • Parents’ participation in children’s school and extracurricular lives;
  • Parents’ involvement in children’s matters;
  • Their ability to communicate on these matters and agree on the key points;
  • Parents’ ability to maintain a consistent and routine environment for their children;
  • Any possible evidence of domestic violence, abuse, neglect, or abandonment;
  • Truthfulness and adequacy of information provided by the parents concerning any past or current issues related to domestic violence, abuse, neglect, or abandonment;
  • Any evidence of parents’ substance abuse or criminal activities;
  • Parents’ ability to create the environment for the children, which is free from substance abuse or criminal activities;
  • Geographic issues (like state of residence, distance to school, distance between the parents, etc.);
  • Any other factors.

Child Support Laws in Florida

When resolving custody issues, child support is one of the aspects that will be determined and confirmed by the court. Child support is the payment made by the parents for their kids’ benefit. Since spouses are not going to live together and there will be no mutual marital budget to be ordinarily spent on children’s needs in supporting their natural development and general wellbeing, the division of the financial obligations is required.

To start with, both spouses must file Financial Affidavits with detailed reports of their monthly incomes, expenses, and all the possible deductions, including health insurance payments, retirement plans, etc. Besides, they should fill in Child Support Guidelines Worksheets. On the basis of these documents, the judge will calculate child support amount for each parent considering the Florida Child Support Guidelines.

Filing for Child Custody

The bottom line is that anyone in the state of Florida can file for child custody if they are getting divorced or are separating with a person they have never been married to. Nevertheless, the issues involving minor or dependent children must be resolved reasonably. In both cases, the court follows the UCCJEA and considers the children’s best interests before making the final decision on parental responsibilities, time-sharing schedule, and child support. With time, parenting plan can be modified in accordance with the changed living conditions of both or either of the parents. However, there must be very sufficient and ponderable grounds for such a move.

This article provides the general and most important information on child custody laws in Florida. If you need further guidance or any legal assistance, you can easily find it online. There are special services that provide individual consultations, professional help, and even free printable divorce papers  that you can use while filing a petition.