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What’s the Difference Between Sole and Shared Custody?
After a divorce, parents have many decisions to make. The biggest decision, and the most emotional, is the issue of child custody.
In the past, Florida courts automatically favored the mother in custody disputes. Known as the “tender years” doctrine, the suitability of the parent was based on their gender alone and not the appropriateness of them as a legal guardian.
Since then, Florida courts have exchanged the tender years doctrine for the best interest of the child doctrine. This means that each parent has an equal right to custody. It also means that child custody disputes are common.
Every child custody dispute is as challenging as it is unique. Some parents fiercely fight for sole custody, while others are able to amicably make a shared custody arrangement work.
Best Interest Of The Child
As in most states, Florida uses the best interest of the child standard to determine all custody matters. Simply put, this means before the court will rule on a custody order their primary concern is whether that decision will be in the child’s best interests.
While the name of the doctrine may seem straightforward—that the court will make whatever custody determination that is in the child’s best interest—the factors and information that the court uses to decide a child’s best interest are complex. There are many factors that a court will consider when determining what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child. Examples of factors include, but are not limited to:
The mental and physical health of the parents
Evidence of abuse or neglect
The ability of each parent to provide the child with a consistent routine
The length of time the child has lived in a stable environment and the desirability of continuing that stability
Each parent’s ability to put the child’s needs over their own
The child’s developmental needs and each parent’s ability to meet those needs
The extent to which each parent is involved in the child’s life (such as academic and extracurricular involvement as well as the amount of interaction with their friends, teachers, coaches, and other important people in the child’s life)
The child’s record of behavioral issues at home or school, if any
The division of parental responsibilities, and
Other relevant factors.
When the court weighs all the unique factors of your family’s situation, they will come to a determination of a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of your child.
Legal And Physical Custody
Before understanding the difference between sole custody and shared custody, it’s important to explore the distinction between legal and physical custody.
Physical custody refers to the time each parent spends with the child. In Florida, this is also referred to as timesharing or periods of responsibility.
Legal custody, on the other hand, refers to the right to make important decisions about the child’s life and future. Examples of legal custody include decisions regarding which school the child will attend, whether they will receive religious instruction, and what third parties will be a part of their lives.
Sole Custody Versus Shared Custody
In a sole custody arrangement, one parent is given both legal and physical custody of the child. Shared custody, on the other hand, is an arrangement that gives both parents legal and physical custody of their child. This means that both parents must approve all major decisions that affect the child’s life.
Typically, most parents have joint legal custody and share parenting time.
Custody And Child Support
A common myth about child custody is that, if the parents have joint custody, child support obligations are null.
The truth is that child support is calculated by Florida’s Child Support Guidelines and are based on factors such as the income of both parents and the cost of the child’s medical and other needs. Despite their income, each parent is legally obligated to financially support their child.
What To Do In A Custody Dispute
If you are facing a custody dispute, it’s important to contact an experienced custody attorney to answer your questions and protect your interests. If you are a parent who wishes to obtain parental rights for a child, the first step is to establish paternity by filing a motion with the court. Once paternity is established, the court custody process will proceed normally.