Florida Statute §61.13 indicates that it is the state’s policy that child custody decisions are made in accordance with the best interests of the child. The state takes the position that children benefit from continuing and frequent contact with both parents. Therefore, Florida does not make a presumption of which parent should have custody of the child.
Instead, if the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan and custody agreement, the judge decides custody terms based on what is in the child’s best interest. A judge can consider reasonable requests from the parents and the child. However, the final decision must support the child’s well-being.
Shared Parental Responsibility Is the Default Child Custody Decision in Florida
State law requires judges to order shared parental responsibility (joint custody) unless shared custody would be detrimental to the child.
Evidence that creates a rebuttable presumption that shared custody would be detrimental to a child includes:
- A court found a parent guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor charge of domestic violence.
- A parent meets the grounds for terminating parental rights under Florida Statute §39.806.
- A parent was convicted, or the court withheld adjudication of a sexual offense in Florida Statute §943.0435, and at the time of the offense, the parent was over 18 years old and the victim was under 18 years old, or the parent believed the victim was under 18 years old.
The parent accused of any of the above offenses has the burden of proving that shared custody would not be detrimental to the child. The court may order sole child custody to one parent if the judge finds that it is in the best interest of the child to do so.
What Factors Does a Judge Consider When Determining the Best Interest of a Child?
The judge has the sole discretion of deciding how much weight to give any factor affecting child custody decisions. The statute lists several factors affecting the interest and welfare of a child.
Some of those factors are:
- The length of time a child has lived in a stable home and the desire to maintain that continuity
- The mental and physical health of the parents and their moral fitness
- The willingness and capacity of each parent to foster a close, continuing relationship between the child and the other parent
- The child’s community, home, and school records
- The geographic feasibility of the parenting plan and time-sharing, especially in relation to the child’s needs
- The child’s reasonable preference, if the judge deems the child is mature enough to express a preference
- The ability of each parent to care for the child, including meeting the child’s needs and providing a consistent routine for the child
- Evidence of sexual violence, child neglect, child abuse, domestic violence, or child abandonment
- The ability to provide a safe home for the child, including an environment free from substance abuse
A judge can consider any other factor relevant to custody that helps them decide what is in the child’s best interest. Typically, absent evidence that proves a parent to be unfit or that a parent should not be granted custody, the courts grant shared child custody.
Who Is the Custodial Parent in Florida?
Even though the judge grants shared custody, a child typically lives primarily with one parent for stability and continuity. The parent who has the child most of the time is the custodial parent. That parent generally receives child support payments from the non-custodial parent.
The custodial parent is responsible for the day-to-day care of the child. However, with shared legal custody, the non-custodial parent has a legal right to make decisions for the child. Decisions would include issues related to medical care, education, extra-curricular activities, and religious upbringing.
A custodial parent should consult the non-custodial parent on significant decisions. They should also keep the child’s other parent updated on important events and factors in the child’s life.
Can a Florida Child Custody Order Be Modified?
The court can modify custody if a parent can prove a substantial change in circumstances. The parent asking for the modification must prove that there has been a substantial change to justify the modification.
For example, suppose the court ordered joint custody. However, one parent develops a substance abuse problem. In that case, the judge could modify custody to award sole custody to the parent without the substance abuse problem.
Child custody cases can be complex. Having an experienced Orlando child custody lawyer on your side can help you protect your child.
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Conti Moore Law Divorce Lawyers, PLLC
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Orlando, FL 32803