How Do Florida Courts Determine Custody?
Florida courts, like most state courts in the country, look to the “best interests of the children” when determining issues of custody. Florida no longer considers it custody. Rather, it is discussed as shared parenting time and responsibilities. There are several key reasons for changing the language of custody in recent years, but the key takeaway should be that courts no longer view custody as an “all or nothing” proposition. It is not a matter of “who gets the kids,” but rather how much time each parent will have and what duties and rights each parent will have. In reaching a decision about parenting time, there are a few points to recall.
What are the Best Interests of the Child?
Florida law outlines the following basic considerations that a judge must look at when reaching a decision:
- How well each parent encourages the relationship of child with the other parent
- How much each parent needs to use others to achieve childcare
- Needs of the child
- Length of time that the child has resided in one place
- Geographic concerns
- Each parent’s “moral fitness”
- Each parent’s mental and physical health and well-being
- School and community connections
- The child’s preference if old enough to express one
- Any history of domestic violence
- Any history of child abuse
- Ability to communicate with the other parent
- Any history of lying to the court or providing false information
- Each parent’s behaviors, such as discussing inappropriate topics relating to litigation with the child
- Substance abuse history
- Relation to grandparents and other extended family members
- Any other factor that the court considers relevant
Agreements vs. Litigation
Keep in mind that these factors are often argued in custody hearings. These are things the judge will have to consider when reaching a decision. But ultimately, there is no exact science. Therefore, it is far better to reach an agreement on parenting time. If at all possible, a separated or divorced couple with children should strongly consider these factors and do some soul searching before entering negotiations. Here are some questions each parent should think about:
- Am I prepared to be a primary caregiver at this time?
- How long am I able to go without seeing my children?
- Is my career going to permit me to relocate, or will I need to make adjustments in my work schedule?
- Am I in a position to make sure the children still see extended family and friends?
- Who will watch the children while I am at work?
- Who is in the better position to make sure the children are in a good school district?
Getting Help With a Parenting Plan
A parenting plan operates much like a contract. It is a very thorough and detailed document that sets forth your agreement regarding parenting time. Once the agreement is signed by each parent, the court will review and enter the order by having a judge’s signature affixed. This makes it an official court order that is enforceable against both parties. If no agreement can be reached, then a court hearing will be held. A custody trial can be very painful and air a lot of private family matters in public. If you need help reaching a workable parenting plan agreement with your ex, contact the Sejour-Gustave Law Firm, PLLC today, and let our team of professionals work to help you resolve your custody amicably and efficiently and ideally without the need for extended fighting and litigation.