During the divorce, the court will allocate custody and visitation rights between you and your spouse. However, Florida no longer uses those terms. Instead, it describes the time parents spend with their children as time-sharing. For unmarried parents, these rights can be established by opening a custody case.
Time-Sharing and Decision-Making
Custody in Florida is described in terms of time-sharing and decision-making responsibility. Decision-making, sometimes called parental responsibility, represents a parent's right to make important decisions about a child's upbringing, such as school and religion. in other states, this is known as legal custody, and in Florida, one or both parents can hold this responsibility. Time-sharing represents the time a parent spends with the child, including overnight stays. If a child resides with one parent most of the time, that parent has majority time-sharing; if both parents spend relatively equal time with the child, they have equal time-sharing.
Based on the Child's Best Interests
When the court decides how much time-sharing you will have, it will base that decision on your child's best interests. To make this determination, the court will look at several factors, including each parent's moral fitness, physical and mental health, ability to provide a stable routine for the child and meet the developmental needs of the child; how long the child has lived in a stable environment and the importance of maintaining that continuity; likelihood of each parent to permit the other parent to have contact with the child and not interfere in the relationship; and whether there is any history of domestic violence. Once the court has evaluated these factors, it will create a parenting plan allocating time-sharing responsibilities between the parents and incorporate the terms into the divorce decree.
Time-Sharing by Parental Agreement
Florida law allows parents to create their own parenting plans rather than leave it up to the court to allocate decision-making and time-sharing responsibilities for them. This means you and your spouse are free to create a parenting plan in which you decide the arrangement that best fits the dynamic of your family. The plan should detail such things as the time-sharing schedule, including holidays, vacations and special occasions, transportation routine, communication between children and parents, how decisions will be made and disagreements handled, and parental responsibility for healthcare, daily tasks, extracurricular activities and school functions. Once complete, you would submit the plan to the court for review. If the terms are satisfactory and don't contradict your child's best interests, the court will approve the plan and include it in your divorce decree.
Modifying Time-Sharing Arrangement
Once the divorce is finalized, the time-sharing rights you are entitled to will be detailed in the time-sharing order outlined in the divorce decree. If your ex-spouse doesn't abide by this order, you may return to court to have the order enforced. You also have the right to modify your existing order if circumstances have substantially and materially changed since the order was established and modification would be in your child's best interests. For example, if your ex-spouse was awarded majority time-sharing, but has since become a drug addict, a substantial and material change has occurred and it is in your child's best interests to be removed from this environment.
- Feldman and Schneiderman: Child Custody Laws in Florida
- Cordell and Cordell: Florida Child Custody Questions
- K. Dean Kantaras: Parental Responsibility and Child Custody
- Donald G. Criscuolo: Ft. Lauderdale Child Custody Attorney
- Florida Bar: Florida Supreme Court Defines “Substantial Change” in Child Custody Modification Proceedings
- Marconews.com: It's the Law - Child Custody Modification Requires Material Change
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