Bernal-Mora & Nickolaou, PA discusses how child custody is determined in Florida divorce cases.

How Is Child Custody Determined in a Florida Divorce?

Florida lawmakers made significant changes to the custody laws in 2008. One of those changes was to remove the word “custody” and related words from the statutes. The updated term for child custody in Florida is “parental responsibility.” The term is intended to emphasize a parent’s duty to a child instead of focusing on control or possession.

Family laws related to custody and visitation can be complicated, and cases involving these issues are often emotional and heated. Parents seeking custody or fighting for more time with their children typically benefit from having the advice of an experienced Florida child custody attorney.

Parents Are Encouraged to Share Parental Responsibility

The courts do not enter a cause with a presumption toward either parent. The default, in most cases, is for parents to share parental responsibility. In most cases, it is typically accepted that a child benefits from having both parents play active roles in the child’s upbringing. A close relationship with both parents is typically better for a child. However, there are cases in which parents do not share equal parental responsibility.

Elements Used to Determine Parental Responsibility in Florida Custody Cases

The courts have worked diligently to create guidelines for parents who will share parental responsibility. The state guidelines for most parenting plans encourage parents to have continued and frequent contact with the child. The plans specify the parental responsibilities and time-share schedules for each parent.

There are cases in which the court may determine that it is in the best interest of the child to grant sole parental responsibility to one parent instead of allowing the parents to share parental responsibility. In the case of sole parental responsibility, one parent has the absolute right to make all legal decisions and day-to-day decisions for the child, including decisions related to education, health care, religion, and extra-curricular activities.

The factors that a court may consider when determining custody or parental responsibility include, but are not limited to:

  • Any history of child abuse, sexual violence, neglect, or domestic violence,
  • The emotional, mental, and physical health of each parent,
  • The age and needs of the child;
  • The current relationship between each parent and the child and the current parenting roles and responsibilities for each parent;
  • The present living condition and situation for the child;
  • The reasonable preferences of the child in light of age and maturity levels,
  • Whether each parent is capable of providing a safe home for the child;
  • If parents can provide for the needs of the child;
  • Whether both parents have shown a desire and ability to facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent;
  • The moral fitness of both parents;
  • Educational concerns and needs of the child; and,
  • Any other factors that may impact the health and well-being of the child.

The goal is to adopt a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child. Judges may begin cases with the presumption that joint parental responsibility is the best option for custody cases, but the unique facts, circumstances, and needs of the child ultimately determine the outcome of the custody case.

Contact a Florida Family Law Attorney for Help

It is not wise to assume that you will automatically receive joint parental responsibility. In the best interest of you and your child, schedule a consult with a Florida family law attorney today to discuss how Florida’s custody laws apply to your family and steps you may need to take to protect your child and yourself in a custody case.