FLORIDA CHILD CUSTODY 

Our attorneys  find that the best way to avoid disaster in divorce and family law cases is for parents to make an active effort to work with their other spouse to come to a reasonable arrangement for how they will share time and parental responsibility with their children.  Oftentimes, when parents are not seeing “eye to eye”, it can be helpful for parents to work with a marriage and family therapist/counselor to discuss their concerns with respect to their children following divorce.  In many cases, a counselor or therapist can help divorcing parents realize why certain parenting issues are important to the other spouse, which can make it easier for parents to come up with fair arrangements that address each of their concerns.

Best Interests of the Child

Keep in mind it is the public policy of Florida that determining each parent’s access and rights to their children is determined in manner that supports the “best interests” of each child. However, when making this decision, the Judge is expected to follow the public policy of Florida, which is to allow both parents to have frequent and continuing contact with their children following divorce in a manner that allows each parent to participate in the “rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.”

If the parties cannot agree, in most cases the court will be setting a schedule that allows each parent significant access to their children but skips the “personalized” details that parents can have added to a parenting plan that is reached through an out of court settlement.  It makes the most sense for parents to reach compromises with their spouse on parenting issues  early on before tensions rise, money is spent, and, in the worst case scenario, a judge develops a parenting plan that ignores important concerns of each parent.

Click Here to see the full list of Best Interest of the Child Factors

I am locked in a child custody battle. Should I consider shared custody?

Shared or joint custody is increasingly popular and can offer numerous benefits to parents and their children. Unless there is a history of abuse or one parent is extraordinarily negligent we advise parents to consider shared custody for the reasons below.  Florida, like most states, uses a best interests of the child standard to determine child custody, which means that both parents will almost always get some time with the child. Read more about the benefits of shared custody here.

Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

It is Florida’s public policy that both you and your spouse share in the responsibility of raising your child and that your child has frequent and continued contact with both of you unless it is determined that doing so would be detrimental to the child. The court will consider evidence of domestic violence or child abuse as evidence of detriment to the child whether or not there is a conviction of any offense. This also includes evidence sexual violence, child abandonment or child neglect.

If this evidence is accepted by the court then it is considered a rebuttable presumption and that this is detrimental to the child. If the presumption is not rebutted after the convicted parent is advised by the court that the presumption exists, shared parental responsibility, including time-sharing with the child, and decisions made regarding the child, may not be granted to the convicted parent.

Can my child testify in a Florida child custody hearing?

It is rare. In most cases it is not a good idea to drag your child in a custody battle and judges are hesitant to allow a child to testify in a custody case. In fact The Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure includes a presumption against allowing your child to testify in court.

Having your child testify can be very stressful on your child and they could end up feeling guilty if they feel they have betrayed you in some way.  You should keep this in mind even in spite of the fact that your child’s “testimony” will almost always consist of the Judge asking your child questions outside of the presence of you and your spouse and your attorneys it still could be harmful.

However, the court rules do allow your child to testify in court if a party brings a motion to allow the child to testify and demonstrates “good cause” for allowing the testimony.

Before you consider using your child as a witness, you need to ask yourself:

  1. Is this information important enough to bring the child into court?
  2. If so, is there another way I can get the information before the judge without having to have my child testify?

Remember the most important witness in your custody case is you, so it’s best to be prepared and not active in a vindictive or malicious manner.

Does my child’s preference matter in my custody case?

It all depends on your situation. If the Judge determine your child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference he or she can consider your child’s preference when it comes to a parenting plan. If your child is at least 15 years old it will be given great weight.

It is important to note that your child’s preference is not the “end all be all” for a Judge to consider. The child’s preference must be balanced with all of the other best interest factors.