If you are a parent facing divorce in Florida, child custody probably tops your list of concerns. Parents who are married or live together don't have to worry about when they will be able to see their children, but that changes when the parents' relationship breaks up. One of the most common questions we get from parents who are breaking up is “How is child custody determined in Florida?”
The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is that child custody (called “time sharing” in Florida) is determined by considering what is in the best interests of the child. The complex part is in unpacking what constitutes “best interests.” Florida, like most states, has a “best interests” statute that sets forth a list of factors a court must consider when trying to make a custody determination.
The Florida Best Interests Factors.
The best interests statute is quite comprehensive, with a list of twenty factors, the last of which is “any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.” The court can essentially take into account anything that might affect a parent's ability to provide a good living environment for a child. The best interests factors include:
- Each parent's demonstrated ability and disposition to facilitate a close parent-child relationship with the other parent and to abide by the time-sharing schedule;
- The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the case is resolved;
- The demonstrated ability and disposition of each parent to act based on the child's needs rather than their own;
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of continuing that;
- The geographic viability of the parenting plan, including travel time for the child;
- The moral fitness of the parents;
- The mental and physical health of the parents;
- The home, school, and community record of the child;
- The child's reasonable preference, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express such a preference;
- Each parent's demonstrated knowledge and capacity to be informed about the child's circumstances, including friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things;
- Each parent's demonstrated capacity and disposition to provide a consistent routine for the child;
- Each parent's demonstrated capacity to communicate with the other parent about child-related matters and to present a united front regarding major issues;
- Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect;
- Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court about any action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect;
- The parenting tasks routinely performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before and during the custody matter;
- Each parent's demonstrated capacity and disposition to be involved in the child's school and extracurricular activities;
- Each parent's demonstrated capacity and disposition to maintain a substance abuse-free environment for the child;
- Each parent's capacity and disposition to protect the child from the ongoing custody litigation and to refrain from disparaging the other parent;
- The child's developmental stages and needs, and each parent's demonstrated capacity and disposition to meet those needs;
- Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.
As you can see, every aspect of your child's life, and your relationship with your child and their other parent, is fair game for the court's consideration. Each of these factors deserve more attention than we are capable of devoting to them in a single blog post. In upcoming blog posts, we will discuss one or more of the “best interests” factors in greater depth.
The Importance of Legal Representation in a Florida Custody Case
Although the court must take into account all of these factors, it is, of course, impossible for a court to get a complete sense of every aspect of your parenting, your child's environment, and their relationship with both parents. Therefore, it matters a great deal what information comes before the judge to shape his or her impressions of your parenting.
That is where the attorney you choose to represent you makes a big difference. An experienced Florida family law attorney will know what needs to be pointed out to the judge, and what information is less relevant, even if it feels important on a subjective level. Your attorney's job is to paint a picture for the court that shows you to be an engaged, responsible, loving parent in whose care your child will thrive.
If you have questions about the Florida “best interests” factors, or if you are concerned that something in your past may affect the court's opinion of your parenting, please contact us today to schedule a consultation.