Child Custody & Visitation

Fort Lauderdale Child Custody Attorney

What are the basics of child custody in Florida?

Many people who visit our offices are surprised to learn that there is no such thing as sole custody, full custody, or even joint custody in Florida. These terms have been used for years to describe the legal relationship between a parent and a child. But that all changed in 2008 when the Florida legislature passed a new law that completely removed terms like child custody, primary residence, and visitation from the statute books.

So, what does this mean for you as a parent? The current law emphasizes the important roles that both parents play in their children’s development through the concept of parental responsibility. 

What is Parental Responsibility?

The easiest way to understand parental responsibility is to think about it as the parents’ overall authority to make decisions for minor or dependent children. And within the concept of parental responsibility, there is what we call shared parental responsibility, shared parental responsibility with decision-making authority, and, in more extreme circumstances, sole parental responsibility.

What is Shared Parental Responsibility?

Shared parental responsibility means that both parents retain their full parental rights. They are basically equals in terms of parental authority and have to confer with each other on major child-related decisions so that they can make those decisions together. This is the arrangement that Florida courts favor the most and, unless you can prove that shared parental responsibility would be harmful to your child, it is also the arrangement that you can expect the court to impose in your case.

What is Shared Parental Responsibility with Decision-Making Authority?

Shared parental responsibility with decision-making authority is a lot like shared parental responsibility but with one significant difference. If one parent has special knowledge, training, or experience in an area like medicine or education, the court can give that parent ultimate decision-making authority in those areas.

What is Sole Parental Responsibility?

Sole parental responsibility means that one parent has the exclusive authority to make child-related decisions without having to consult the other parent first. This arrangement is rare and most Florida courts will only award sole parental responsibility in cases where it is proven that shared parental responsibility is impractical or would be harmful to the parties’ child. This includes, but is not limited to, cases where there is a history of domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, drug or alcohol abuse, or abandonment.

It’s important to remember that parental responsibility is a separate concept from visitation or timesharing, as it is now known. Even in a case involving sole parental responsibility, the court can still award timesharing to the other parent if doing so is in the best interests of the child.

What is Timesharing?

Timesharing, in the broadest and simplest terms, refers to a parent spending time with his or her child pursuant to a court-approved timesharing schedule. Timesharing can be supervised or unsupervised.

What is a Timesharing Schedule?

A timesharing schedule is the written plan that specifies the time that each parent will spend with the child. Both parents can either agree to a timesharing schedule or, if they cannot agree, the court can establish one on its own. Many years ago, it was thought that very young children should spend the majority of time with their mothers. This was called the tender years doctrine. But that was a long time ago, and society’s views have changed. There is no longer any presumption for or against the father or mother of a child or for one specific timesharing schedule over another.

What is Supervised Timesharing?

Florida courts can order supervised timesharing in cases where there is a well-founded concern about the child’s safety. That means, in most cases, that a professional visit monitor oversees the timesharing parent’s interactions with the child at a safe and neutral location. Supervised timesharing is most often ordered to prevent child abuse, domestic violence, or to ensure that the contact between the parent and child is appropriate.

What is Unsupervised Timesharing?

Not surprisingly, unsupervised timesharing is exactly what it sounds like. Parents are able to spend unmonitored time with their children within the parameters of their timesharing schedules. This is the default arrangement and it is the type of timesharing that you can expect a Florida judge to order in your case unless the child’s safety would be placed in jeopardy by doing so.

Parenting Plan

Once the court approves a parenting arrangement and a timesharing schedule has been established, Florida law requires the court to include them both in a formal parenting plan. A parenting plan is simply a written document that describes each parent’s rights and responsibilities regarding any shared children. 

At a minimum, the parenting plan must also designate who is responsible for maintaining the child’s health insurance coverage, and which parent’s address should be used for school boundary determinations. When creating a parenting plan, it is important for both the court and the parents to carefully consider the child’s current and future needs. 

We understand the unique and important nature of the parent-child relationship. Our office is dedicated to helping parents maintain those relationships by preserving their rights and the rights of their children. Whether you are going through a custody case now or just have a few questions, we’re here to help. Contact Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney Andrew Foster to schedule your initial consultation today.

The Law Offices of S. Andrew Foster represents clients throughout South Florida including Aventura, Cooper City, Coral Springs, Davie, Doral, Fort Lauderdale, Hallandale Beach, Hialeah, Hollywood, Kendall, Miami, Miami Lakes, Miramar, North Miami, Parkland, Pembroke Pines, Plantation, Sunrise, Tamarac, and Weston.

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