Gaining an understanding of court processes related to the minor children of divorced parents can be like learning a foreign language. To make things more confusing, Florida recently changed its terms relating to custody. The good news is that the underlying laws are essentially the same and are built around what is in the best interests of the child. Knowing what specific factors Florida courts will look at in making decisions about support obligations and what you can do if visitation is denied will help reduce some of the confusion in the process.
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Florida has moved away from the term "custody" with regard to children and has replaced it with "parental responsibility." This responsibility can be ordered solely to one parent or be shared. If it is shared, the term used in Florida is "time-sharing," and the court will issue a time-sharing arrangement. If the plan splits the time equally, it is known as "equal time-sharing." If one parent will be the primary residential parent, the arrangement is known as "majority time-sharing."
By law, the Florida courts are required to make decisions regarding parental responsibilities according to what is in the best interests of the child. Although shared parental responsibility is generally preferred, the court may consider any factors it deems relevant in making a determination that sole parental responsibility is in the child's best interests. These factors can include the ability of each parent to care for the children, where each parent lives, the mental and physical health of the parents, the living environment, and the developmental stages and needs of the child. Convictions involving domestic violence create a presumption that shared parental responsibilities are detrimental to the child.
Child Support Guidelines
It is important to note that even if the court orders equal time-sharing between parents, one party may still be required to pay child support according to Florida's Child Support Guidelines. The court looks at the combined income of the parents and divides the support obligation in direct proportion to each party's individual income and number of children. In situations where one parent has significantly more income, support may be ordered to balance this out and make sure that the child's needs are being met exactly as if the parents were pooling their income together as a family.
A parent may not refuse to honor a time-sharing agreement on the grounds that the other parent has failed to meet his child support obligation. Although the delinquent parent may be found in contempt for failure to pay, the law does not provide for penalties in the form of reduced visitation by the other parent. If that happens, the court can order that excess time be given to the parent to make up for time lost. The court may also order that the offending parent attend parenting classes or perform community service, as well as pay any attorney fees incurred by the parent denied visitation.
References & Resources
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