(PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY AND TIMESHARING)
Michael N. Bress, Esq.
Child “Custody” in Florida is referred to by the terms “parental responsibility” and “timesharing.” This is because in 2008, Florida’s legislature revised the statutes to eliminate the word “custody,” which is rarely used, in favor of a presumption that shared parental responsibility is in the best interests of the child. In other words, it is the public policy of Florida to ensure that a child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents, and to encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities and joys of child rearing. The presumption, however, can be overcome upon a showing that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.
Shared parental responsibility requires parents to confer about and determine jointly major decisions that affect the welfare of their children. Some of the decisions that are considered major decisions, involve a child’s education, religion, dental, or medical needs. The court, however, may decide that one parent should have ultimate responsibility over specific aspects of a child’s welfare. If the parents cannot agree on a major decision, the court may determine the matter in consideration of the best interests of the child or children.
If an action involves minor or dependent children, Florida Law requires the establishment of a parenting plan. A parenting plan must contain a timesharing schedule and address parental responsibility, along with corollary issues such as flexibility, vacations, holidays, exchanging custody, how emergencies will be handled, and how the non-custodial parent will be able to communicate with the child or children. The parenting plan must be developed and agreed to by the parents, and also be approved by the court. If the parents cannot agree, or if the parenting plan they develop is not approved by the court, the court will fashion its own parenting plan according to the best interests of the child.
In Florida, the legal standard used to determine issues involving minor children is the “best interests of the child” standard. This means that all custodial decisions are determined with the ultimate goal of fostering the child’s happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development. Therefore, in deciding issues regarding timesharing and parental responsibility, the court must consider various factors that ere encompassed by the best interests of the child standard, including but not limited to the following:
The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent;
The anticipated division of parental responsibilities;
The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
The geographic viability of the parenting plan;
The moral fitness of the parents;
The mental and physical health of the parents;
The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference; and
Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought.
In Florida, before a final judgment in a divorce involving children is entered, parents are required to attend a four-hour parenting course on the consequences of divorce on families and children. The Florida Legislature codified this requirement in Florida Statute § 61.21, in part, because they found that parental conflict related to divorce because children often suffered short-and-long term economic, emotional, and educational effects that were detrimental, especially when parents engaged in lengthy legal conflict. The parenting course is also to encourage parents to resolve disputes in the best interests of their children, and to provide other beneficial information regarding legal and personal aspects of divorce.
Child Custody is one of the most emotionally charged issues that parents fight over. But the more cooperative parents are in resolving custody issues, the easier the process will be for the family and the more likely they will develop a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child and also the parents.
If you need legal assistance in a divorce matter or child custody matter, you can contact Bress Law Firm, PLLC at (954) 336-8049, or by email at Michael@BressLaw.Com. Initial consultations are free and confidential. We are a Family Law Practice located in Aventura, Florida, but serve clients throughout Miami-Dade and Broward. By appointment only.
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