Florida Child Custody Guidelines

by Bernadette A. Safrath
A court decides child custody based on the best interests of the child.

A court decides child custody based on the best interests of the child.

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Custody arrangements are called "time-sharing plans" in Florida. When parents divorce or separate, they will need to decide on a time-sharing plan. If they are unable to do so, a Florida court will issue an order setting forth each parent's rights to spend time with the child, based on what is best for the child.

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Equal Time-Sharing

Parents have an equal right to custody in Florida. This means that the parents' genders and the child's age and gender are no longer considered factors when a court creates a time-sharing plan. The court presumes that a an "equal time-sharing" arrangement is in the child's best interests because it ensures that the child maintains "frequent and continuous contact" with both parents. This type of shared custody order means that each parent has possession of the child for at least 40 percent of the year.

Majority Time-Sharing

If the parents demonstrate a complete inability to cooperate in raising the child, or one parent is unable to properly care for the child -- whether because of a demanding career, drug or alcohol abuse or any history of domestic violence or child abuse -- the court will award "majority time-sharing" or sole custody to one parent. The other parent will still have the opportunity for visitation.

Best Interests of the Child

Florida courts determine the most appropriate time-sharing arrangement based on the best interests of the child. The court considers a list of factors to ensure that the child's welfare is always the top priority. These factors include each parent's ability to provide a stable home environment; the child's current living environment; the distance between the parents' residences; each parent's ability to provide day-to-day care for the child, such as school, homework, bathing, meals, bedtime and discipline; the parents' ability to communicate and cooperate regarding the child's care; and whether either parent has a history of domestic violence or child abuse. The court will consider the child's preference if the court believes he is of appropriate "intelligence, understanding and experience."

Modification

Either parent can request modification of a time-sharing arrangement at any time. A court will modify order if the requesting parent can prove that there has been a "material, unanticipated and substantial change in circumstances" since the initial time-sharing arrangement was ordered. The court will make its decision in light of the best interests of the child, just like the original order. A change in circumstances can include a parent's remarriage, a parent's significant illness or injury, evidence of drug or alcohol abuse, criminal activity or the custodial parent's plans to relocate a significant distance.

Relocation

A parent with majority custody of a child must get permission from the court before relocating a significant distance (at least 50 miles), especially if the planned move is out of state. The petition must express the exact reasons for the relocation, including any job offer from a potential employer, in writing. The other parent may object to the relocation within 20 days of the petition's filing. The court will makes its decision based on the best interests of the child. Any order allowing relocation will include provisions for the other parent to have access to the child as convenient based on the new distance between the parents' residences.