father with sole custody of child

Is Sole Custody Available in Florida?

All too often, child custody, otherwise referred to as parenting responsibility, becomes the battleground of a heated divorce. People are, understandably, especially protective of and emotional when it comes to things involving their kids. There are big decisions being made in divorce proceedings that will fundamentally impact the family structure, parenting time, and parenting responsibilities. In the midst of so many big things going on, a parent may fight for what they will call “sole custody.” Is sole custody, however, available in Florida?

Is there sole custody available in Florida? 

Sole custody no longer exists in Florida. The term “sole custody” has not been used in Florida for years. Sole parental responsibility, however, does exist and it is what is used to describe a situation where one parent seeks the retention of full parenting rights and responsibilities with respect to their child. When a parent has sole parental responsibility, he or she has complete authority to make decisions for the child. There is no need to consult the other parent when making major life choices impacting the child.

While sole parental responsibility is available in Florida, it is very much the exception to the rule. It is, in fact, rare in Florida for a court to permit one parent to essentially being cut out from a child’s life. This is because it is the job of the court to rule in a way that serves the best interests of the child. In most cases, this means both parents playing a role in his or her life.

A court will order sole parenting responsibility in cases where one parent has been proven to be unfit. This may be the case if a parent has been convicted of a third-degree felony or higher involving an incidence of domestic violence. It may also be the case when a parent has proven himself or herself to be dangerously unreliable and irresponsible or if it has been shown that he or she is an alcoholic or habitual substance abuser. If it can be shown that a parent is dangerous for a child to be around, then the court may deem the parent unfit and award sole parental responsibility to the other parent.

The alternative to sole parental responsibility, and what is granted in the vast majority of cases, is shared parental responsibility. With shared parenting responsibilities, both parents retain rights and responsibilities in regards to their shared minor child. This means that both parents must reach mutually agreed-upon resolutions regarding major decisions impacting the welfare of the child. 

Florida Family Law Attorneys

Do you have more questions regarding custody and parenting responsibility determinations? Reach out to the knowledgeable family law attorneys at Orlando Family Team. Whether it be to answer your questions or provide you with trusted legal advice as we work to always protect your best interests, we remain committed to serving you and your family. Contact us today.

child with her guardian ad litem

Why Would You Need a Guardian ad Litem?

A Guardian ad Litem is a person who is appointed by a Florida court. The Guardian ad Litem appointed will essentially serve as a child’s protector and advocate. His or her role is only that of serving the child and acting as the voice of the child for court hearings or when dealing with social services. A Guardian ad Litem serves a vital role in many different situations. 

Why It Is Important to Have a Guardian ad Litem

In some cases, a court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem on its own. This will occur in cases where a child is involved and there is a suspicion that one or both parents are struggling with substance abuse. The appointment may also be made if there is a suspicion that either of the parents has been physically abusive. An appointment may also be made if the child is displaying certain at-risk behaviors or has been found delinquent.

In the event of divorce proceedings, a Guardian ad Litem may be appointed when parents cannot reach an agreement on what is in the best interest of the child. There can be heated disputes when it comes to the well-being of a child and those are the cases where a Guardian ad Litem may be appointed as their sole role in the process is to report on what he or she determines to be in the best interests of the child.

In certain cases, you and the child’s other parent may agree to file an order appointing a Guardian ad Litem in your case. The order will be sent to the judge for his or her signature. In the alternative, if your spouse does not agree with such an appointment, you may file your motion for appointment of a Guardian ad Litem. The motion will then be heard and the judge will rule on it.

There could be several reasons why you may want to consider having a Guardian ad Litem appointed for your child in your case. Again, the role of the Guardian ad Litem is to advocate on behalf of the best interests of your child. This means that, if you are asking for what is really in the best interest of your child, the Guardian ad Litem will side with your position. This can go a long way in court. The Guardian ad Litem is a third party in the case who is tasked with launching an investigation into what is best for the child and then makes informed determinations that are then reported back to the judge.

On the other side of things, if the other parent is asking something that is not in the child’s best interest, the Guardian ad Litem would likely recognize that. The determination would, in turn, be reported back to the judge. This means that there is an extra check in the process of keeping both parties in line. Additionally, the possibility of a Guardian ad Litem being appointed or having one appointed may deter the other parent from continuing to make unreasonable requests and encourage them to resolve the case.

Florida Family Law Attorneys

If you have more questions about a Guardian ad Litem and if one would be or not be beneficial to have in your case, talk to the dedicated family law attorneys at Orlando Family Team. We are here to answer your questions and provide you with trusted legal counsel on a variety of family law matters. Contact us today.

daughter and mother talking about divorce

What Questions Are Your Children Going to Ask About Your Divorce?

Going through a divorce can be an emotionally draining process. This is true even for the most amicable and straightforward divorce cases. It can represent a fundamental shift in your life that you may not even be fully prepared for. This all can be even more so true when there are children involved. Children have their own set of strong emotions that will come into play. They will most certainly have their own extensive list of questions to ask you. Some of these questions will be much tougher than others and you should prepare yourself accordingly.

What Questions Are Your Children Going to Ask About Your Divorce?

The specific questions your children will ask about your divorce will depend on a variety of factors including the age and maturity of the child as well as the specific circumstances surrounding the divorce. Most kids will probably end up asking you, at one point or another, why you are getting divorced. In fact, this may be the very first question that comes out of a child’s mouth when you deliver the news. It is important that you and your co-parent have answers prepared for questions like this, preferable answers that include not putting any blame on the children and avoiding or minimizing specific blame placed on one another.

Divorce is likely to be a big disruption to a child’s life. The child will likely have many logistical concerns as to how the divorce will impact things he or she cares about and what day to day and week to week life will look like. Some of these kinds of questions include:

  • Where will I live?
  • Will I have to move?
  • Will I go to the same school?
  • Where will you live?
  • Will I still be able to see my neighbors and friends?
  • Will I still be able to participate in my extracurricular activities?

The logistical questions can be difficult to deal with as you may not have answers to all of them and they can come in waves. Your child is looking for what will remain the same. Will he or she be able to keep on with things that are important to him or her? This is a great opportunity to put the child’s mind at ease with as many clear and set answers as you can.

Other questions may prove even more challenging to address. Explaining to a child the big complex emotions and issues that lead to divorce is a challenge. It can even be a challenge to explain these kinds of things to other adults. Be prepared for your child to ask why you are divorcing or why divorces happen.

Your child may even turn to you with a particularly heart-wrenching question by asking if he or she did anything wrong. Having your child feel at all responsible for a divorce can be a lot to handle. This is why it is critical that you make it clear to your child that parents divorce each other. They do not divorce their kids. The divorce is strictly between you and your co-parent.

Florida Family Law Attorneys

Divorce can be difficult under the best of scenarios and being a parent can be difficult under the best of circumstances. Combine these two things and you may feel quickly overwhelmed. Let the dedicated divorce attorneys at Orlando Family Team relieve you of some of the burdens you are carrying. We are here to provide you with support and trusted legal counsel throughout the process. Contact us today.

father picking up child

Parenting Plan Mistakes to Avoid

There are many important issues to resolve during the divorce process. This is even more so true when there are children involved. Child custody decisions can prove contentious even amidst the most amicable of divorces. Still, child custody and parenting decisions must be agreed upon and memorialized in the parenting plan. Once the court approves the plan, it is legally binding on both parents and compliance is required. 

There are several fairly common mistakes people make in establishing a parenting plan. We discuss them here in the hopes that it will help you avoid them.

Parenting Plan Mistakes to Avoid

One of the most common mistakes that you should avoid in your parenting plan is not having a specific parenting schedule. It is a wonderful thing if you are getting along with your co-parent and you want to be flexible with each other’s parenting schedules. This, however, may not always be the case. A specific parenting schedule will set healthy boundaries despite the ebb and flow of your relationship with your co-parent. The two of you are, of course, always welcome to agree upon deviations from the established schedule, but having that specific schedule in place to come back to can help manage expectations.

Another big mistake people make in their parenting plans is not having a move clause for the custodial parent. This is a provision that states a discussion must be had prior to the custodial parent moving residences. It is understandable that proposed moves like this can turn into heated battles rather quickly. The move clause can establish how to handle this situation should it arise in the future.

Travel terms are also commonly left out of parenting plans and they should absolutely be included. Some parents travel frequently, especially if they have family living out of state or abroad. If you worry that your co-parent may take a trip with your child without discussing it with you first, travel terms are an absolute necessity to be included in your parenting plan.

It is also a mistake to leave out provisions for dispute resolutions. No matter how amicable the co-parenting relationship may be and no matter how detailed a parenting plan may be, disputes may still arise. Putting a provision in your parenting plan that provides for this situation is a smart move. You can help avoid another court battle by going to mediation.

It is also important to avoid leaving out a plan for childcare. The parenting plan should address who will be watching your child when you are not around, whether it be for work or something else. You can even request the right of first refusal in your parenting plan. This means that, should the other parent require childcare, such as a babysitter, he or she must first ask if you are available to care for the child prior to bringing in someone else. Should you be unable to do so, then the other parent can leave them with the babysitter or childcare provider of his or her choice.

Florida Family Law Attorneys

At Orlando Family Team, our team of dedicated family law attorneys understands the importance of a solid parenting plan and the many benefits it can bring to a post-divorce co-parenting relationship. Contact us today.

mom with shared custody of her children

The Benefits of Shared Custody for Children

After a divorce, it can be difficult knowing you have to split your parenting time with your former spouse. Adjusting to a parenting schedule can be one of the toughest things to handle after a divorce is finalized. It presents a substantial shift in your family life and schedule. While it may be hard to process, there are many benefits of sharing custody that your children will enjoy. Knowing this can, hopefully, be of some comfort during the struggles that come with co-parenting.

The Benefits of Shared Custody for Children

When both parents play an active role in the life of their child, absent any physical or emotional abuse, children often thrive. The saying “it takes a village” proves all too true. With shared custody, a child has the opportunity to interact with a number of people who care about him or her on a weekly basis. Each parent remains able to make a substantial contribution to raising the child and the child can then benefit from a more balanced upbringing. Additionally, the child retains access to many more extended family members as well as friend groups for both parents. Each parent can contribute their own strengths to help their child succeed and can counterbalance each other’s weaknesses.

A shared custody arrangement also allows the child to foster a solid relationship with both parents. The child can satisfy that innate need to connect with his or her parents. The consistent contact with each parent can provide the child with the opportunity to develop these essential life relationships.

While you may find it difficult to miss out on time with your child, it will also likely encourage you and your co-parent to maximize the quality of the time you do get to spend with your child. The limited-time becomes even more precious. After your child spends time with his or her other parent, he or she will come back to you to catch up and spend time together. The time away also provides you, the parent, with an opportunity to take care of those things that are more difficult when kids are around, such as taking some time for yourself. Whether it be things that have been lingering on your to-do list for far too long, going to work out, or treating yourself to a spa day, maximize the time you have to yourself and then maximize the time you spend with your child when he or she returns.

Co-parenting also helps reduce the financial stress that can come with one parent not being involved in the child’s life. With shared custody, both parents more naturally assume financial responsibility for the child. Both parents are spending a significant amount of time with the child which means they are more likely to routinely cover the costs associated with the child.

Florida Family Law Attorneys

Shared custody is not right in every situation. Even when it is “right” it may not feel “right” as it is a big change for many parents to process. The family law attorneys at Orlando Family Team remain committed to families in the midst of a divorce. We are dedicated to the pursuit of what is best for you and your loved ones. Contact us today.

Divorced parents arguing over parenting plan.

What Should a Parenting Plan Include?

During divorce proceedings, a parenting plan must be submitted and approved by the court. The parenting plan sets forth how you and your former spouse and co-parent will raise your shared children. Essentially, it sets the terms for post-divorce parenting. The court generally prefers that the parents reach an agreement on the terms of the parenting plans for themselves, but, in the event that the parents cannot reach an agreement, the court will step in.

What to Include in a Parenting Plan.

Courts tend to have a preference for comprehensive parenting plans that include details surrounding things such as visitation schedules and arrangements as well as how disagreements between the co-parents should be resolved. When approaching the development of your parenting plan, it is a good idea to first be aware of the types of things that should be addressed. Address each issue with as much detail as you can. Being clear on the rights and responsibilities of both parents will be important to a successful co-parenting relationship after divorce.

A parenting plan should include provisions for:

  • Legal custody issues: This includes fundamental decisions impacting how the child will be raised.
  • The education plans for each child: Depending on the age of the child, this may include whether the child will attend day care or be watched by a family member or some other type of arrangement. For older children, this may address whether the child will attend public or private school.
  • Routine parenting time: Outline when and how your child will go between your two households. This can and should include things such as when pick-up and drop-off will occur, where pick-up and drop-off will occur, as well as the means of transportation and how the parents will communicate details of the logistics involved.
  • Holiday parenting time: Go through a list of annual holidays and decide who will get to spend what holiday with the child. If you want to split time on a holiday, specify so. Detail whether holiday parenting time will take priority over routine parenting time. Outline when exactly holiday parenting time will start and stop.
  • Covering college expenses: Address who will be responsible for what part in saving for the child’s college education. Determine the responsibility of each parent as far as how much should be contributed to a savings plan and how regularly this should occur.

Other provisions for the parenting plan should include:

  • Extracurriculars of the children
  • Dispute resolution methods
  • Relocation of one parent
  • Domestic and international travel restrictions
  • Communication methods between co-parents and the child

A court will approve a plan that creates a safe, stable, and supportive environment for a child. 

Florida Family Law Attorneys

In a parenting plan, a court will look to see how you will divide parenting responsibilities and duties so that the physical, mental, and emotional needs of your child will be met in post-divorce life. For help developing a parenting plan that is best for you and your family, talk to the trusted family law attorneys at Orlando Family Team. Contact us today.

Mother and child walking through a park.

How Do I Change My Child’s Last Name?

At some point, you may want to change your child’s last name. It might be simply due to some type of change in preference or family circumstances. In some cases, a parent may seek to have a minor’s name change after a divorce. Whatever the reason, in order to change your minor child’s name in the state of Florida, you will need to receive judicial approval through the court system.

Changing Your Child’s Last Name

To change your minor child’s last name, you must file a petition for a name change (minor child) with the court. Before you can have or request a hearing on your petition, however, you must be fingerprinted for purposes of submitting to a state and federal criminal background check. This background check is required in every child name change case, unless you are seeking restoration of a child’s former last name. Your fingerprint card must be attached to your name change petition. Once you have submitted your fingerprints to the Department of Law enforcement, and the clerk of court has received the background check results, then you may be scheduled for a hearing.

In some cases, both of a child’s parents will consent to the name change and live in the county where the name change is being sought. If this is the case, then both of you may file the required paperwork and then a hearing will be set. In other cases, both parents may consent to the name change, but only one parent lives in the county where the name change is being sought or only one parent will file the petition for name change. In these cases, the other parent must be notified of the name change and you must obtain the other parent’s written consent to the name change. The completed Consent for Change of Name (Minor Child) must be submitted to the court.

As you can see, when both parents agree to a name change for their minor child, the process is relatively easy. When one parent opposes a name change for the minor child, however, things become much more complicated. You are still within your rights to go ahead and file a name change petition with the court. The other parents must be notified regarding your petition via formal service of process and the hearing once it is scheduled. Should the whereabouts of the other parent be unknown to you, then you will need to go through the process of constructive service which involves publishing notice in a local paper in the area of last known residence.

In the event of a contested name change, if the parent contesting the name change fails to appear at the hearing, then the court may grant a default judgment granting the name change. If both parents appear at the hearing, the judge will need to weight the arguments for and against the name change. Should the judge grant the name change, you will want to get several certified copies of the order. You will need these copies in order to make the name change official on various identification documents.

Florida Family Law Attorneys

The matters involved in family law are often sensitive and complicated. At Orlando Family Team, our experienced attorneys have a thorough understanding of family law issues as well as the many nuances that can end up having significant impacts on the outcome of a case. For help with any of your family law needs, contact us today.

Mother and son on a train

What Happens If My Former Spouse Will Not Agree to My Relocation?

Co-parenting after divorce can be filled with challenges. It can seem like a constant struggle of trying to coordinate schedules, communicate and meet the needs of the child, and to maintain an amicable relationship with your former spouse amidst all of this and more. Sometimes, you and your former spouse will reach an impasse on a matter. For instance, what happens if you want to relocate with your child, but your former spouse will not agree? The relocation might be for a new job, or to move closer to family, or just because you need a change of scenery.  Regardless of the reason, you should learn more about your options should your former spouse refuse to agree to a relocation.

If My Former Spouse Does Not Agree to My Relocation, What Should I Do?

Under Florida law, a relocation is defined as a parent moving at least 50 miles from his or her current residence for at least 60 days. If you are seeking to relocate, your former spouse and co-parent may agree to the move. Should this be the case, you and your co-parent can sign a written agreement that outlines the terms of the move as well as new custody agreements. It should be clear in the agreement that both of you agree to the relocation. It should also be clear on the time-sharing schedule for the parent who is not relocating. Additionally, the agreement should include how both of you plan on handling transportation for visitation schedules.

A relocation can obviously have a dramatic impact on a visitation schedule. When one parent moves far away, it often becomes impractical to have the same visitation schedule as when they were closer by. It makes sense, although it can be extremely frustrating, when a co-parent objects to such a move. If you and your co-parent cannot reach an agreement about the relocation, you may file a petition to relocate with the court. The petition must be served on the other parent and must include:

  • The address and phone number of the location where you wish to relocate
  • The date of relocation
  • The reason(s) for relocation
  • The proposed post-relocation visitation schedule
  • Proposed post-relocation transportation plans for visitation

The non-relocating parent has 20 days from receiving notice of the petition to file a response. If no response is filed, the court is within its authority to grant the relocation petition without even having a hearing. If the other parent does file a response, it usually includes reasons why the relocation should not be permitted, including how active the non-relocating parent is in the life of the child.

The court will rule on the petition after weighing a number of different factors. The court’s goal is to render a decision that is in the child’s best interests. Factors to be considered may include:

  • The child’s relationship with both parents
  • The age and needs of the child
  • The non-relocating parent’s ability to maintain the relationship with the child post-relocation
  • The preference of the child
  • The reason for the relocation
  • The reasons against the relocation 
  • Any factor relevant to the best interests of the child

Florida Family Law Attorneys

If you or a co-parent are looking to relocate, the trusted family law attorneys at Orlando Family Team are here to help you navigate this often difficult and complicated matter. Contact us today.

Mother dropping off son at father's house.

How to Foster a Positive Co-Parenting Relationship

When you have children with a former spouse, divorce is not the end of the relationship. Building a solid co-parenting relationship after divorce is important, mainly for your kids. While easier said than done, establishing a positive co-parenting relationship with your former spouse can foster a sense of security and continuity for your children. Knowing that both parents will play a positive and active role in their lives can be of immeasurable help to your children and their continued mental and emotional well-being. Here are some tips on how to make that positive co-parenting relationship happen.

Fostering Positive Co-Parenting Relationships

It may feel impossible to have a positive co-parenting relationship with a former spouse. You may have doubts about a co-parent’s abilities to actually parent. You may feel resentful and distrustful. There can be substantial amounts of baggage carried over from the divorce and years prior. In establishing and maintaining a positive co-parenting relationship with your former spouse, keep in mind the one simple truth that what you are doing is in the best interests of your children. Whatever resentment or anger you feel toward your former spouse, your children can still reap the benefits of seeing you two form a solid co-parenting relationship.

These tips on how to foster a positive co-parenting relationship are often way easier said than done. They are simply a starting point for the road ahead. A good place to start is finding a way to set aside your feelings of hurt and resentment for your former spouse. If it helps, try to focus on them only as the other parent of your children. Pack up the baggage of your marriage and put them away. Take those feelings out elsewhere. This can mean accessing a support system made up of people you trust, such as your friends, family, or a therapist. Put your ill-feelings about your former spouse away and work to keep them away from your co-parenting relationship.

Improving communication with your co-parent is also critically important to the success of this relationship. Do not make your children the go-betweens. Work to communicate in a peaceful and purposeful way with your co-parent. It can really help to limit communications strictly to child-related issues. Maintaining a business-type demeanor in communication style can be a good standard to work toward and maintain.

Co-parenting can and should involve some level of teamwork. You will want your former spouse to communicate about issues relating to the children and work with you on these things. Afford them the same courtesy. This has benefits for all parties involved. Your children will see that you work together to resolve important matters. Consistency in parenting perspectives and boundaries will fall more in line. The children will benefit from more constants in their lives. 

Florida Family Law Attorneys

Divorce issues do not end after divorce. At Orlando Family Team, we are not only here to help protect you and your family through the divorce process, but we are here to set you up for a successful post-divorce future. Our clients lean on us during divorce and afterward. Contact us today.

Daughter and father hugging.

Can a Child in Florida Choose Which Parent to Live With?

During divorce proceedings, there are some big decisions that will be made. This is especially true when there are children involved. One of the most significant, and often most contentious, issues is child custody. If a couple cannot come to an agreement on their own, the court will decide custody by considering a number of factors and keeping in line with the best interest of the child standard. The court will consider things such as the moral fitness of each parent as well as their mental and physical health. Additionally, the court will evaluate how parental responsibilities are likely to be divided in the future and the child’s home and community history. In some cases, the child will also have a say in which parent he or she will live with.

Can Children Choose Who to Live With?

While a child cannot legally choose which parent to live with, he or she may have the preference considered when the court is weighing all factors relevant to the child custody decision. Whether a child’s preference will be taken into account in this determination will depend on whether the court, as stated in Florida Statute 61.13, “deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.” There is no exact age established by law that provides for a child to decide which parent to live with.

When determining whether a child meets the statutory requirements associated with being able to voice a preference of which parent to live with, the court will evaluate the child to see if he or she has the level of intelligence needed to know about the costs and benefits of living with either parent. The child must understand the weight of the decision being made and the kind of consequences associated with the decision. Finally, the child must have enough experience spending time with each parent to properly assess which parent would be the preferred one to live with. Generally speaking, children about the age of 12 years or older have their preference considered in custody decisions, but this fluctuates depending on the intelligence, understanding, and experience of each specific child. The court will also take great care to ensure the preference expressed by a child is not the result of any coercion exerted by either parent.

In some cases, there will be multiple children involved. The court will render a custody decision for each child separately. The custody situation for siblings will be a factor considered by the court in rendering a custody decision, but, again, this decision is based on a number of other factors as well. Each child is evaluated based on individual needs and what would be in the best interest of that particular child. It should also be noted that a child will not be forced to testify as to what parent he or she prefers to live with.

Florida Family Law Attorneys

At Orlando Family Team, we understand the importance of any decision that relates to children. We are here to help you through all issues incident to child custody. Our team of family law attorneys is committed to always representing and pursuing the best interests of our clients. Contact us today.