Florida Child Custody Basics

Although “child custody” is a common phrase heard in relation to divorces and family cases, Florida does not refer to issues related to parental time with children as “custody”. Parental time and child custody is referred to as “time sharing” and is established by a parenting plan in Florida.

A Parenting Plan establishes almost all terms related to the parent and child in Florida cases, including responsibilities and rights of each parent. Time Sharing also includes the terms of legal and physical custody. Legal custody is certain parental rights (e.g. choosing schools, religious activities, and making other parenting decisions). Physical custody is exactly that. Who has actual physical custody of the children. In other words, how much time each parent gets with the child(ren).

In most cases, married couples (mothers and fathers) start with equal child custody rights in Florida. Many think mothers are favored for primary or sole custody, but that’s not accurate. Fathers have the same rights if the couple was married when the child was born. Florida paternity law ensures that factors involving mothers and fathers are considered when determining child custody.

But when a child is born to unmarried couples, Fathers have a few more hurdles to overcome before they get the benefits of the paternity rights in Florida. Being on the birth certificate is not enough. Fathers have to formally establish paternity to gain any rights related to parenting. That, however, is a more detailed topic beyond the scope of this post. This article assumes the couple was married when the child was born.

The parent with sole custody is called the “primary parent” or “custodial parent.” The other parent is called the “secondary parent” or “noncustodial parent.”

How Is Child Custody Decided in Florida?

There are typically two ways child custody can be decided in Florida: by agreement or by a judge. Co-parents may reach an agreement, whether on their own or through the mediation process, about important issues like visitation and shared time. However, if they cannot work together, the judge will decide the terms of the parenting plan.

Other Factors That Could Affect Custody

The court uses many factors to determine custody in a divorce or child custody case. Some of those factors are listed in Florida child custody law, and they include:

  • The child’s relationship with both parents
  • Special needs of the child
  • History of domestic violence, abuse, or abandonment
  • History of drug and alcohol use
  • Child’s preference, if they are mature enough to make a decision
  • Each parent’s willingness and ability to provide for the needs of the child
  • Moral fitness of each parent
  • Home, school, and community record of the child
  • Each parent’s involvement in the child’s life
  • Both parents’ ability and willingness to facilitate the parent-child relationship
  • Each parent’s willingness to honor a time-sharing schedule
  • Each parent’s reasonableness when changes to visitation are required
  • Parents’ physical and mental health
  • Distance between parents
  • Parents’ willingness to act on behalf of the child instead of their own interests
  • Ability to create a stable home environment

The court will consider all factors that contribute to the child’s overall wellbeing.

What Is Considered in the Child’s Best Interest?

The court’s goal is to do what is in the child’s best interest. That includes providing for the child’s physical and mental health, education, social and emotional growth, and overall wellbeing. The factors considered by the court target the best interests of the child.

In some cases, the child can present their preference regarding who they want to spend the most time with. This is more common with older children. They can often choose who to live with. However, the judge will want to know why. If the child has a mature reason that is in their best interests, the court will likely comply with the child’s wishes.

The court typically favors parenting plan agreements made by co-parents. This is often made at the same time as a separation or divorce agreement. It is always in the child’s best interests for their parents to work together. This also prevents a custody battle and allows both parents to exercise preferred parental rights.

Can the Custody Plan Be Modified?

A child custody plan can be modified any time there is a significant change of circumstances. Florida custody laws allow parents to make a motion to modify their child custody for the same reasons judges consider when establishing an original custody order.

Child support can also be modified in Florida when there is a substantial change in circumstances. You must show that one or both parents had a significant change in income or the child’s needs have changed.

Attorney Michael Fayard Is Here to Help with Child Custody Issues

Child custody can be complex. Florida parental rights are based on the law, but the court will also use a common-sense approach to decide which parent gets custody and who gets visitation. You can skip much of the court process by reaching an agreement with your co-parent. However, that is often easier said than done.

Let Florida child custody attorney Michael Fayard help. Call us today or use our online contact form to reach out for a case consultation.