Courts in Florida don't take child custody decisions lightly. Judges must refer to a whole list of factors that are considered to shine a spotlight on what's in the best interests of the children involved, and they must determine custody accordingly.
Florida Custody Terms
Custody is broken down into two categories in Florida. They're called "time sharing" and "parental responsibility." Time sharing involves physical time with the child, whereas parental responsibility refers to make critical decisions on the child's behalf, such as those concerning her schooling, medical care and religious upbringing.
One parent may be awarded sole time sharing and parental responsibility rights, or either one or both types of custody might be jointly shared by parents.
The trend in Florida has been toward equal parenting time and time sharing for parents since about 2014, at least whenever possible. Even when one parent is awarded "sole" custody, courts will not terminate the child's relationship with her other parent, at least absent some significant and severe circumstances that might make contact with that parent unsafe. In most cases, the non-custodial parent can still see his child and even have overnights with her, but the court may implement precautions to ensure that she remains safe during these times, such as supervised visitation.
The Best Interests of the Child
A Florida family court will establish child custody or time sharing based on the best interests of the child, the list of factors the court must consider.
- Each parent's willingness to encourage and support a relationship between the child and the other parent, to honor a time sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes occur
- Each parent's ability to respond to the child's needs as opposed his or her own needs
- The mental, physical, and emotional health of the parents
- The stability of the child's home environment
- Any history of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect
- The child's wishes, if the court deems the child to be of a sufficient age, intelligence, understanding and experience to make a reasonable decision, which typically means age 12 or older
- Each parent's ability to be involved with the child's school and extracurricular activities
Relocation and Child Custody in Florida
A Florida court will agree to one parent relocating with a child if both parents sign a written agreement expressing consent to the relocation. The agreement should explain the time sharing schedule for the non-relocating parent and any other persons who are entitled to have regular access to the child. It should also address transportation arrangements.
The parent who wishes to relocate without a signed consent agreement must serve a signed petition to the other parent and file it with the court as soon as reasonably possible. The petition must include the address, telephone number and description of the new residence, the date of the intended move or proposed relocation, and a statement describing the reasons for the move.
Modification of Child Custody in Florida
A existing child custody order will not be modified in Florida unless a parent can show that there's been a substantial, material or unanticipated change in circumstances.
"Material" means that the change affects the quality of the child's life. Just as with initial custody decisions, the modification must serve the child's best interests.
For further information about child custody in Florida, speak with a qualified attorney or refer to the Florida Domestic Relations statute. If you can't afford an attorney, legal aid may be able to help.