Child Custody and Parenting Time
Divorce presents a number of issues that often produce tension and disputes between the parties, but one area, in particular, causes the loudest and most contested arguments – child custody and parenting time. Given the stakes, it makes perfect sense why parents would fight so strongly for a greater share of control and time over their children’s lives. While it is best for both parents and children if the parties to come to mutual agreement over the care and custody of their children, if agreement is not possible, the courts will step in and decide child custody and parenting time issues based on factors set out in Florida law. In hopes of encouraging cooperation among divorcing parents, a new online toolkit offered by Florida State University aims to educate parents on methods of communication and compromise that lead to the development of effective co-parenting skills. The toolkit is available to the public and is endorsed by the Florida Department of Children and Families as a course that satisfies the mandatory parenting class all parties in cases involving determinations of parental responsibility must take.
Florida law favors shared joint custody between the parents unless this custody arrangement would be detrimental to the best interests of the child. There are two types of custody a court must consider in these cases – legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to a parent’s authority to make decisions on behalf of the child in areas like health care, education and child care. Legal custody can be shared by the parents or granted to just one by court order. Physical custody is the actual amount of time a child spends with either parent, and a court may decide a child should spend equal amounts of time with each parent, give one parent primary physical custody with the other parent entitled to have specific amounts of time with the child, or completely deny parenting time. There is no preference in favor of either parent or in the structure of the time-sharing schedule. Parents have the opportunity to design their own division of legal and physical custody, which courts typically approve unless the parents’ plan is against the best interests of the child.
Florida law requires all parents who share time with their children to have a written parenting plan that must, at a minimum, include the following information:
- how the parents will and share divide daily childrearing tasks;
- a time-sharing schedule outlining how much time a child will spend with each parent;
- which parent will have responsibility over decisions related to the child’s health care, education and other activities; and
- the methods the parents plan to use to communicate with the child.
All of these requirements for a parenting plan are based on a state policy that prioritizes “frequent and continuing” contact between a child and the parents and equal sharing of childrearing responsibilities. When assessing the appropriateness of a parenting plan, the court looks at a number of factors related to the child’s wellbeing, specifically health and safety, emotional and developmental needs, and co-parenting skills. Every family has unique circumstances, so each parenting plan receives individualized consideration by the courts.
Talk to a Divorce Attorney
If you are going through a divorce or separation from your spouse and have questions about child custody and visitation, speaking to an experienced divorce attorney will allow you to become informed about your legal options and what to expect from the court. The Fort Lauderdale law firm of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. represents clients in all matters related to divorce, and can help you take the steps to start a new phase in your life. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.