When deciding child custody matters, all courts in the United States place the welfare of the child above all other considerations. This means that even if two parents reach an agreement together involving child custody, time-sharing, or decision-making power over the child, the court can veto that agreement and put one in place that ensures the welfare and safety of the child. For this reason, even the best parents can feel anxious over the process of deciding child custody. The following are key considerations of the court when rendering a decision in the best interests of a child.
Courts Make Basic Assumptions About a Child's Best Interests
All family courts will consider the best interests of the children above all other considerations. The courts assume that having both parents be a part of the child's life is in the best interests of the child. It is therefore incumbent on a parent who believes that the other parent is unfit, abusive, or unstable to prove that the other parent should not have custody or access to the children. This requires that the parent lay out very specific accusations. Specifically, abuse, neglect, or other issues will need to be brought before the court.
Custody vs. Time-Sharing in Florida
The state of Florida has two separate courts to decide these issues. Custody is a matter of dependency. A child is dependent on an adult. Florida Family Court, which handles divorces, decides issues related to visitation and time-sharing. Florida Dependency Court makes rulings on whether or not one parent should have custody or even access to the child and under what conditions visitation is allowed.
Since the state of Florida believes that it is in the best interests of the child to have access to both parents, a judge can give one parent 100% time-sharing, which would effectively block the parent from accessing the child. However, the judge must put in place a plan that allows the parent to visit or access the child. In many cases, this is the successful completion of a drug treatment program or some other type of intervention that helps the parent get their life back on track.
For a parent to be denied visitation of a child, the court must find that they have abused, neglected, or abandoned the child. In most cases, the standard is quite high, so the court will likely award visitation to both parents. If one parent wishes to deny access, then the matter is remanded to dependency court.
Factors Influencing Custody Arrangements
Florida Statutes §61.13 lays out the specific considerations relevant to the issue of parental access to the child. These include:
- Which parent is better suited to provide for the emotional, financial, and educational needs of the child on a day-to-day basis?
- Which parent will afford the child a stable, consistent, and nurturing home for the child?
- Which parent will make the child available to the other parent without creating a problem?
- A history of drug or alcohol abuse
- A history of criminal convictions, violence, or physical abuse
In addition, after a certain age, the child's own preferences may be considered when determining where a child will live.
When both parents understand that the court's default position is to award both parents 50/50 access to the children and that it is exceedingly unlikely that you will have a strong argument for denying your former spouse access to your children, the process tends to move along more quickly.
Crafting a Workable Parenting Plan
You and your former spouse will need to work out a parenting plan that works for both you and your children. The more detailed the parenting plan is, the more likely it is that the court will accept it without modifications. Florida Family Court judges want to see a parenting plan that details how parenting time is going to be split between the two parents. They want confidence that the parent with whom the children live is capable of taking care of their medical, educational, emotional, and physical needs.
Nowadays, homes with access to remote learning tools are becoming increasingly more important to the educational needs of the child. Key considerations that must be reached include:
- Where will the child go to school?
- What happens on holiday breaks?
- Who picks the children up after school?
- Who makes medical decisions for the child?
- Who makes educational decisions for the child?
- How are weekends split?
I Cannot Speak to My Former Spouse
In some cases, a relationship becomes so strained that one parent no longer feels comfortable dealing with the other. In these cases, you and your attorney can present your own parenting plan to the court. Your spouse will likely present their own parenting plan. The court will then rule on the considerations mentioned above, the quality of the parenting plans, and issues related to the best interests of the children.
In cases where neither parent can sit down and discuss the matter with the other, the court has the final say to determine which parenting plan is in the best interests of the children. Courts can reject a parenting plan for any reason, but if the two parents cannot reach an agreement that the court is satisfied with, then both parents will lose control over the decision and relinquish that control to the Family Court judge.
Talk to a Tampa Child Custody Lawyer Today
Issues of child custody are often the most contentious in a Florida divorce. Having a skilled child custody lawyer on your side ensures that your perspective on the matter will be considered by the court and taken into account when a visitation schedule is in place. Call Florida Divorce Law Group today to schedule a free 30-minute consultation and learn more about how we can help.