The Florida courts truly care about the well-being of children, and do not take child custody decisions lightly. As a truly “sole custody” decision (where one parent has the child 100% of the time, and the other parent has no visitation or decision making abilities) is no longer an option, the courts must review a list of factors and work through what the best interests of the children involved are. The courts are going to look at what is best for the mental and physical health and development of the child.
Florida divorce courts got rid of the term “sole custody” back in 2011, and now refer to custody and visitation as “parental responsibility” and “time sharing”. This was partly done because it simply sounds better, but was also to work on shifting the mindset on how child-rearing works. You are not “visiting” your child, you are parenting your child. You and your ex-spouse are not custodians, you are parents who share your child and each have a responsibility to raise them to be well-rounded individuals.
A judge will make a decision and award either sole custody to one parent or joint custody to both, but even when a judge grants sole custody to one parent, the court will not order that the child’s relationship with the other parent be terminated, unless there are documented and factual proof of unsafe circumstances with the other parent. Even then, the courts will still allow the non-custodial parent to see his or her child, and even have overnights with the child, but the courts may enact precautions, like supervised visitation, to keep the child safe.
We spoke earlier about Florida divorce courts reviewing a list of factors when establishing both child custody and time sharing. They will be basing the factors and the best interests of the child, which include:
- How willing each parent is to actually be a part of the child’s life, and be involved with the child’s school and extracurricular activities.
- How willing each parent is to support a relationship between the child and the ex-spouse. The courts do not want each parent to talk ill of their ex-spouse to the child, as this can cause resentment.
- Can each parent honor a time sharing schedule, and be reasonable if changes occur (a parent gets a new job and works new days, a planned vacation is coming up that will take over some of the other parent’s time sharing days, etc).
- The health (mental, physical and emotional) of both parents.
- The court will take the child’s wishes into account, if the court deems the child to be of a sufficient age (normally age 12 older) to make a reasonable decision.
- The court will also be taking into account any history of domestic or sexual violence, child abuse, neglect, or abandonment as well.
Once a child custody order is created, it cannot be modified in Florida unless the requesting parent can show that there is a major change in circumstances. This must be substantial or unanticipated, and cannot be just because a parent wants a different time sharing schedule because it benefits them more. The change must be material, meaning that it affects the quality of the child’s life, and must serve the child’s best interest.
Should you have any questions or need further information about child custody in Florida, or are looking for a divorce attorney in the Highland Beach, Jupiter, Tequesta, or West Palm Beach area, speak to a qualified attorney or contact us for a consultation.