What to Know About Florida Custody Laws
Florida divorce cases and child custody cases are never easy on any of the parties. Still, it’s essential to understand the ins and outs of the state’s procedures to do what’s best for both parents and the child(ren).
Today on the Wendy Doyle Palumbo blog, we want to dive into the details of child custody law in Florida.
Our experienced custody attorneys answer some of the most commonly asked questions about Florida child custody and divorce. We’ll also provide an overview of the case filing process.
For assistance, please callor send us an online message to request a consultation.
How Do Florida Child Custody 50/50 Laws Work?
Perhaps the most common type of question we receive is about 50/50 timesharing. This is the state in which both parents split custody (and time with the child) down the middle, evenly dolling out rights and responsibilities.
As much as we wish 50/50 timesharing in Florida were an appropriate situation for all custody cases, it simply isn’t. Many high-conflict problems and divorces make it challenging to come to custody and timeshare agreements. This forces the court to choose another path for shared custody or time allotments.
In many cases, 50/50 timesharing is excellent for the children. They get to spend time with both parents and maintain a semblance of normalcy. However, sometimes the judge will decide that it is not the best choice for the child and will pick an alternative route for custody and visitation.
It’s incredibly important to hire a divorce lawyer who is skilled at handling high-conflict divorce cases, as well as a variety of custody cases. This will ensure you get the best results for both you, your ex-spouse or partner, and the children involved.
Do Fathers Have Rights to Timesharing?
Absolutely. If you are a biological father of a child in Florida and have been refused visitations or custody sharing, you are well within your rights to seek legal action. Find a family lawyer to advocate on behalf of your parental rights and establish a fair timesharing setup.
What Is a “Florida Parenting Plan”?
In our state, the court issues something called a “parenting plan” in a separation or divorce. This is an outline of parental responsibilities, decision-making authorities, timesharing strategies, and more. In a sense, it’s your plan of action for learning to share custody according to your custody arrangements.
According to the Florida Court:
“A Parenting Plan is required in all cases involving timesharing with minor child(ren), even when timesharing is not in dispute. The Parenting Plan must be developed and agreed to by the parents and approved by the court. If the parties cannot agree to a Parenting Plan or if the parents agreed to a plan that is not authorized by the court, a Parenting Plan will be established by the court with or without parenting plan recommendations.”
How Is Child Custody Usually Determined?
When parents cannot agree to a separation or divorce, outside of the court system, the judge will make the custody decision.
Their choice will be based on:
- Each of the parents’ willingness and ability to care for the children.
- What the child wants.
- Parental moral fitness.
- School, home, and community of the child.
- Any history of domestic violence and abuse.
Does the Child Get a Say in Their Custody Decision?
In many cases, yes. Judges like to consider the child’s preferences when possible and safe to do so. ‘
Still, this is not the only factor that will be considered in any Florida parenting plan. The judge will potentially allow the minor to testify, but they will ultimately make their custody decision based on various factors presented in court.
Children can also share their custody preferences outside of court, either with a mental health professional or in a professional interview.
What Is the Procedure for Filing a Florida Custody Case?
Step 1: Preparation
Before you launch into filing a custody case in Florida, you’ll need to review resources and begin thinking about what timesharing schedule and parenting plan will work best for your circumstances. You’ll also want to hire a family lawyer to help you strategize, as well as review paperwork.
Step 2: Filing
Once you’ve prepared, you’ll file for the custody case. If you’re getting a divorce, you will automatically file for a custody case during your marriage dissolution. If you are not married or married but want to petition for custody individually, you will need to file separately.
Step 3: Parenting Class
Within 45 days of opening a custody case, Florida custody law requires parents to attend a “Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course” from an approved provider. Parents can take these classes together or separately. Ideally, they will learn more about co-parenting, timesharing, and parental responsibilities.
Step 4: Paperwork & Discovery
As each parent prepares for trial, they will need to submit child support paperwork and financial affidavits (otherwise known as “mandatory disclosure”). Parents will likely need to attend case management conferences, called by either the other parent or a judge.
Step 5: Mediation
In Florida custody cases, cases that have not been settled by this step must attend mandatory mediation. A mediator will attempt to help the parents agree (and a solid parenting plan) without going to trial. This required session will last at least three hours and set up a plan that best benefits the children.
If the mediation is unsuccessful or only a partial settlement is reached, the case will be submitted to the Florida court, and the process will continue.
Step 6: Pre-Trial Conference
Next comes the pre-trial conference, often called by a judge. This usually takes place a few weeks before the actual trial occurs. The judge will talk about the trial’s ground rules and offer an opportunity to settle (outside of the trial) for the last time.
Step 7: Trial
Finally, the parents will reach the trial. Both will have the opportunity to present evidence about their qualifications as a parent, as well as reasons why the other parent should not receive full custody. Witnesses can also be questioned in front of a judge.
A trial does not usually take place immediately after mediation. Depending on the court’s schedule, it could take months for a trial to begin and finish. The judge can immediately issue their decision, or a general magistrate may take up to 10 days to make a final call.