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Florida Child Custody Guide and FAQ
Parents are strongly urged to work together to develop a time-sharing arrangement that is in the best interest of their child and their family. However, when parents cannot agree about child custody, a family court judge makes custody decisions for them.
Child custody cases in Florida are based on the circumstances and specific facts of the case. Judges also base their decisions on the best interests of the child. Mothers and fathers are not given any preference in child custody matters.
Generally, parents have many questions about child custody laws in Florida. Our Florida child custody guide answers many of these questions.
How do Courts Determine Child Custody in Florida?
As discussed above, parents are encouraged to reach an agreement regarding child custody. When parents cannot agree to a custody arrangement, the court decides for them.
A child custody case’s primary focus is on the child’s welfare and the child’s best interest. Florida statutes list factors that a judge considers when deciding custody matters.
Some of those factors include, but are not limited to:
- Each parent’s ability and willingness to encourage and facilitate a close relationship between the child and the other parent
- The parent’s ability to follow a time-sharing plan and be reasonable when changes are necessary
- A child’s reasonable preferences
- The child’s community, home, and school record
- The parent’s ability and willingness to be involved in the child’s education and extra-curricular activities
- The moral fitness of each parent
- The physical health and mental health of each parent
- How the parents expect to divide parental responsibilities after the end of the case, including whether parental responsibilities may be delegated to third parties
- The demonstrated capacity of each parent to be involved in the child’s life, provide a consistent routine, know the child’s friends, teachers, and medical providers, and communicate with the other parent
- Evidence of sexual violence, domestic violence, neglect, abandonment, or child abuse
- The needs of the child, including the child’s developmental stages
- The ability to provide an environment free from substance abuse
The judge may consider any relevant factor that could impact the child’s best interest when evaluating a time-sharing schedule and parenting plan.
What is a Parenting Plan?
Florida adopted a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule instead of the traditional definitions of legal custody and physical custody. The parenting plan states how the parents will share decision making authority and parenting responsibilities. The plan states which parent will be responsible for the child’s education, health care, and extracurricular activities.
A parenting plan also outlines where the child will live and how much time the child spends with each parent. Time-sharing schedules are flexible because the needs and circumstances of each family are unique. The schedule is based on the facts of the case.
Can a Parenting Plan be Modified?
Yes, a parenting plan can be modified for substantial and unanticipated changes in circumstances. The parenting seeking to modify a parenting plan has the burden of proving that the change is necessary and substantial.
Some reasons for a change in the parenting plan could be a parent’s arrest, substantial changes in a child’s needs, relocation of a parent, or allegations of child abuse.
How is Child Support Calculated in Florida?
Florida uses child support guidelines to calculate support obligations. The main factors that impact child support obligation are:
- The income of each parent
- Childcare costs
- Time-sharing arrangements
- Health insurance costs
In most cases, the child support guidelines determine the amount you pay or receive for child support. However, judges do have the discretion to deviate from the child support guidelines in specific cases.
If a parent fails to pay court-ordered child support payments, the other payment can request various enforcement options. The parent cannot deny time-sharing based on a failure to pay child support payments.
Florida Paternity Laws and Parental Rights
Both parents have a legal obligation to care for and support their children unless their parental rights are terminated. Terminating parental rights requires a court order. The court will only terminate parental rights for a good cause.
It is presumed that a husband is the legal father of any children born during the marriage. If a child is born out of wedlock, the father must take steps to establish paternity. Establishing paternity is essential because a father does not have any legal rights until paternity is established.
The father and mother can list the father on the birth certificate or complete other paperwork to establish paternity. If the mother disputes paternity, the father can file a court action to require a DNA test to establish paternity.
Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights?
The subject of grandparent rights is complicated. However, one new law in Florida makes it easier for grandparents to see their grandchildren. If a parent is deployed, activated, or temporarily assigned to military services on orders that exceed 90 days, the parent may designate a family member to engage in time-sharing with a child on their behalf, including grandparents.
Otherwise, grandparents might have a challenging fight to obtain visitation rights with their grandchildren. Grandparents must petition the court for visitation rights. However, the Florida Supreme has ruled in favor of the parents in many cases.
Other Questions About Florida Custody Laws
If you have other questions about child custody issues in Florida, it can help speak with an experienced child custody lawyer. Child custody matters can be complex, and the laws governing custody can be difficult to understand. Obtaining sound legal counsel is the best way to protect your rights and your child’s rights.
Contact Our Divorce Law Firm in Orlando, FL
Contact the experienced Orlando divorce lawyers at McMichen, Cinami & Demps today for legal assistance. Contact our Orlando, FL office at (407) 898-2161 to schedule a free consultation.
McMichen, Cinami & Demps – Orlando Office
1500 E Concord St
Orlando, FL 32803