As a parent, your child is one of the most important parts of your life. We understand that, and know that custody battles and parental rights are a delicate, sensitive subject.
This is why we fight so hard for our clients--to ensure they can spend the time they deserve parenting their children. Custody matters can get confusing, especially during a time when much is uncertain and heart-wrenching. Let us help you understand Florida’s family laws and parental statutes.
Shared Parental Responsibility
Since 2008, full, or sole, custody is no longer a term used in Florida’s courts. In fact, “custody,” “custodial,” “non-custodial parent,” “primary residence,” “primary residential parent,” and “visitation” have all been eliminated from Florida’s legal system in regards to parenting. Rather than completely cutting off the rights or visitation of one parent, Florida assigns shared parenting plans and time sharing arrangements.
The Courts consider two main options in cases of parental responsibility issues, or what many still refer to as “custody.” If the Courts award “Shared Parental Responsibility,” both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities, and major child welfare decisions are to be determined jointly. This is the default ruling in Florida courts. If parents find they cannot agree on a decision, they must take that matter up in front of the judge.
The shared parenting style does not necessarily mean that parents share equal “custody.” It actually has nothing to do with where the child physically resides, or how much time the child spends with either parent. Those terms are defined in the parenting plans and time sharing schedules, which we explain below. Shared Parental Responsibility refers only to how decisions must be made in regards to the child, where both parents must confer with each other.
Florida Courts decided to make these changes to parental laws because the concept of parenting seemed to be getting lost in discussions of “custody,” “visitation,” and “primary residences.” When you are with your child, you are not “visiting,” you are parenting, and this is what the state hoped to emphasize with these changes to the statutes.
If the court orders Shared Parental Responsibility, a “parenting plan” will also be assigned to the parents. This plan consists of a set of court-ordered rules that must be followed by both parents when making decisions about the child, such as health, education, and well-being decisions.
A time-sharing schedule is also included in the parenting plan. Rather than referring to this as “visitation,” as mentioned above, the time-sharing schedule refers to the time each parent will be allotted to parent the child. It also structures how the child will spend holidays, birthdays, and other defined timeframes, such as summer vacation.
There are four main combinations of parental responsibility and time-sharing orders from Florida Courts:
- Sole Parental Responsibility, with sole time sharing for that parent
- Sole Parental Responsibility, with time sharing for both parents
- Shared Parental Responsibility, with the majority of the time sharing awarded to one parent
- Shared Parental Responsibility, with equal and rotating 50/50 time sharing awarded to both parents
Sole Parental Responsibility
Sadly, in some cases, divorce and discussions around parental rights occur because of one parent’s inability to care for a child. The exception to Florida’s Shared Parental Responsibility norm is when Sole Parental Responsibility is ordered by the Courts. In the case that one parent is “unfit” to share in the parenting of a child, the Court must find that shared parental responsibility would, in fact, be detrimental to the child’s well-being. The Court would then order Sole Parental Responsibility to the other parent, giving them the rights to make all decisions regarding the child.
If you feel you should receive Sole Parental Responsibility in the case of your own child, discuss your options with your attorney. Be aware that the courts will need to determine the other parent unfit, and that a Shared Parental Responsibility order would actually be harmful to your child. Note, too, the factors considered by a judge and the evidence you will need to present in order for Sole Parental Responsibility to be awarded. Some of those factors and considerations include:
- 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 moral fitness of the parents
- The mental and physical health of the parents
- 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
- Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child's school and extracurricular activities.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse
- The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child's developmental needs
These factors, in addition to others not listed here, are also considered in Shared Parental Responsibility rulings when the parenting plan and time-sharing schedule is drawn up and put into place.
If you are going through this painful process, know that you don’t have to endure it alone. We at Lusk, Drasites, and Tolisano can guide you through these difficult times and ensure you and your children are awarded the best possible outcome. Contact us today in the Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and Naples regions to have your case reviewed, and to place your situation in capable hands.