Determining Child Custody In Florida: Who, What, Where, and When

How to get primary custody in Florida is a grey area. Sole custody is also increasingly rare for a parent to receive as the Florida Courts look to maintain developmental normality and stability for the child. As such, wherever possible, the main goal is to allow both parents to cultivate and maintain a relationship with their child.

However, what is right for each child varies by family and is often a hybrid of shared time, a primary residence, and delicately balanced child support schedule. Keep reading to find out the main factors used by the Courts to determine child custody.

Custody: Physical vs. Legal

In Florida, there is a distinction between physical and legal custody.

Physical custody is the determination of where the child will live. Legal custody is the allocation of which parent is able to make parenting decisions such as medical care, extracurricular activities, and education.

In cases where there is a joint custody arrangement (called shared parental responsibility) both spouses have physical and legal decision-making rights. As such, a parenting plan and time sharing schedule is agreed to outline and stabilize the life of the child. These plans are then tendered to the Court so as to allow the judge to modify the parenting plan if necessary.

Commonly, any changes are made to promote the best interest of the child’s life– a term we discuss in greater detail later in this article.

Calculating Time Sharing Responsibilities?

There are several methods of time sharing used when joint custody is inevitable, though not all are equally favored by the Court.

  1. Shared Parental Responsibility
    Once again, this term comes up when deciding the living arrangements of the child. In most cases, parents who are sharing responsibilities both determine major life decisions of the child, but agree that the child lives predominantly at one parent’s home. This allows for more regularity in the child’s life– the time then offset usually by spending weekends and alternating holidays with their other parent.
  2. Rotating Custody
    While this is a clean 50/50 time sharing option (3 days with one parent, 3 days with another, for instance), the Courts are unlikely to grant this particular system unless a very specific set of circumstances are met. This is because while the split may seem fair to the parents, unless they are on excellent terms and are living nearby, this type of rotational schedule is often very disruptive for children.
  3. Supervised Time Sharing (a.k.a. visitation)
    In cases where a given parent is not responsible enough to care for (or be alone with) their child, supervised time sharing is a way for parent and child to safely maintain their parental relationship. This is done through a set schedule of times where the supervised parent spends time with their child in the presence of another responsible adult.

    These individuals vary by case and can range from a trusted family member to mental health care professions such as social workers. 

What about Child Support?

Generally speaking, the Courts will try to keep the amount each parent contributes as fair as possible in relation to child care duties, related expenses, and spousal income. This may mean that while the child lives predominantly with one parent, those associated costs are offset by increased child support payments by the second parent.

The Courts strive to foster a budget that results in each parent paying roughly the same cost for the support of their child. Note, however, that these terms are prone to change in cases where one parent comes across severe hardship and desires to rework the terms of the agreement.

The logistics of these agreements are nuanced and must account for possible unexpected expenses in addition to several other factors (how much the child eats while living with the caretaking parent, for instance). As such, speaking with an attorney is the only way to properly determine and negotiate a budgeting plan.

Best Interest of the Child

All custody proceedings and decisions hinge on this factor: best interest of the child.

The term itself is a bit vague as its creation was meant to serve as an umbrella term indicating that the following conditions are met:

  • The child is kept in a safe and developmentally appropriate environment 
  • The caregivers are aware of the child’s likes, dislikes, medical providers, school activities etc. 
  • The child, in all cases except those involving abuse and unfit parenting, are allowed to maintain and cultivate a positive relationship with the opposite parent

These factors all represent the holistic approach Florida takes to determining child wellness. This emphasis guides the court system to be most likely to maintain as much familiarity and regularity in the child’s life as the divorce progresses and is finalized.

As such, it is common for caregivers and school staff to weigh in on how your child is adjusting to divorce to further inform the Court to make sure all proceedings are headed in the right direction for the individual child.

Primary Child Custody Factors in Florida

While primary (sole) custody is rare, it’s not impossible to achieve.

Primary custody is rightly granted in situations where the opposite spouse is unable to properly care for the child or keep the child safe. The following are a selection of instances that may cause the court to revoke child custody from a parent:

  • Is unfit to parent the child due to child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, or unmanaged mental illness
  • The spouse engages in parental alienation, an act in which the spouse tried to promote ill feelings of the other parent within the child so as to foster feelings of dislike
  • The home environment is dirty, hazardous to health, or is located in an area which has high rates of crime and/or violence

Furthermore, in many of the above scenarios, the Court will have to be certain these acts are being committed and point to a pattern of behavior. This results in an amount of time where the offending spouse is on a kind of probation– for instance, they may need to submit to regular drug screenings after being accused of substance abuse.

Please be aware that these categories of conduct are serious offences and the Florida Courts will take action against a spouse who falsely accuses their spouse. In fact, falsely accusing your spouse could result in the revocation of your own custody rights.

Contacting an Attorney

Like any area in family law the rules and nuances around child custody laws are prone to change and misinterpretation. As such, it is always the safest option to check in with an attorney experienced and knowledgeable of the Florida Statutes to gain a better understanding of your rights and best strategies forward.

At Dave Roy Law, this is what we help you achieve.

Dave Roy Law, located conveniently in West Palm Beach, can handle all your divorce needs. Staffed with experienced lawyers, there is very little we have not seen. If you are looking to begin your divorce proceeding, start on the right foot by contacting us at 561-729-0095 to schedule an appointment.