Florida Divorce Laws Regarding Child Custody

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For divorcing parents in Florida, it is essential to understand the unique terminology and procedures for determining custody before heading into court. Florida law refers to custody arrangements as a parenting plan, which establishes the parents' time-sharing schedule, parental responsibilities and child support. The parents may agree to their own parenting plan or leave it up to the court to determine what is in the best interest of the child.

Parenting Plans

In Florida, couples going through a divorce have the option of creating their own parenting plan instead of having the courts determine the arrangement. If an agreement is reached, parents submit the parenting plan to the court for approval. However, the court will only approve the plan if it adequately addresses custody and visitation, for example, by providing a specific schedule for when the child will spend time with each parent, whether one or both parents will be responsible for making decisions regarding the child's well being, such as religion, health care and education, and acceptable methods of communication between the child and parents, for example, by email and telephone.

Parental Responsibilities and Time-Sharing

Whether drafted by the court or parents, the parenting plan will include parental responsibilities and a time-sharing plan. The court may grant either sole or shared custody. When one parent has sole custody, known as sole parental responsibility in Florida, she is responsible for making major decisions on behalf of her child. Florida courts will usually order shared custody, or shared parental responsibility, unless there is evidence that a shared custody arrangement would be harmful to the child. When parents are unable to amicably communicate or agree on issues, the court may designate that each parent is individually responsible for making certain decisions on behalf of their child, instead of requiring the parents to agree on every issue. The parenting plan will also include a time-sharing schedule, which establishes the times and dates the child will spend with each parent, including overnights and holidays.

Best Interest Factors

When parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, the court will determine the parenting plan based on what is in the best interest of the child. The court may consider a number of factors, including the ability of each parent to take care of the child, the mental and physical health of the parents and child, which parent served as the primary caretaker during the marriage, and physical distance between the parents. The court may consider any other evidence that demonstrates what is in the child's best interest, including the wishes of the child if the child is considered mature enough to express a preference.

Child Support

The parenting plan may also include child support payments. The court will calculate the amount in accordance with Florida's statutes, while parents may deviate from the formula and come to their own agreement. Generally, the court will determine child support by considering the financial resources of each parent and financial needs of the child, taking day care, medical expenses and other necessary expenses into consideration.


About the Author

Elizabeth Rayne earned her J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2009, advising clients on issues ranging from employment law to nonprofit management. For two years, she served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."

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