Decisions about Parenting Time in Florida
Regardless of the underlying circumstances that prompt a need for a child custody determination – e.g., divorce, paternity, separation – parenting time is an important issue with long ranging ramifications that demands careful consideration. There is often a lot of emotion invested in the outcome of this decision that can complicate matters and sometimes lead to disputes between the parents. A recent article in the Miami Herald looks at the importance of the involvement of both parents in a child’s life, especially boys, as a deterrent to violence and criminal activity. Specifically, the article discusses the role of equal parenting time in promoting this goal and the need for family court reform in many states towards this norm. Twenty-two states, including Florida, implemented a shared parenting custody scheme in recent years. A discussion of how this system works in Florida for most cases will appear below.
Default Division of Time
Under Florida law, there is a legal presumption that both parents should share equal time with the child unless circumstances exist that renders such an arrangement detrimental to the child. This is keeping with the state’s policy that children should have “frequent and continuing contact with both parents” following a divorce or separation and to encourage a sharing of the responsibilities of childrearing. This presumption in favor of both parents is discarded if a parent was convicted on charges related to domestic violence, child abuse or a violent felony offense. If the convicted parent fails to dispute the assumption that contact with the parent would be detrimental to the child, the court may limit or terminate the convicted parent’s time with the child and/or the ability to make decisions about the child’s life.
Factors in Decision
When a court decides what time-sharing arrangement is best for the child, it uses a number of factors to make the final determination. Initially, though, the court will consider the desires of the parents as a starting point in the decision process. It should be noted that even if time-sharing and decisions about the child’s life are denied to a parent, the parent is still entitled to access to the child’s records for dental, medical and school-related information.
The best interests of the child are the ultimate concern driving the court’s decision on which parent should be responsible for a child’s welfare. While the court has a laundry list of factors it may consider, some of the more pressing factors include:
- the ability of each parent to help maintain healthy relationships between the child and the other parent, honor the time-sharing schedule and be flexible when changes are necessary;
- the ability of each parent to put the needs of child before their own;
- how long the child has lived in a stable environment and how to best continue that pattern;
- the moral fitness of each parent;
- the physical and mental health of each parent; and
- the ability of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child.
Finally, if the parties are unable to agree on the outline of a parenting plan, the court can refer them to a parenting coordinator to help resolve issues of contention between the parents. The purpose of a parenting coordinator is help the parties create and/or implement a parenting plan, which is accomplished through a combination of education and recommendations. A parenting coordinator may also have limited decision power if there is the consent of the parents and court. A parenting coordinator is one of the following: a mental health professional, a physician certified in psychiatry and neurology or a family law mediator.
Speak to a Lawyer
In decisions surrounding parenting time, it is important to keep civil relations with your ex-partner for the sake of your child, but it is equally important to know your rights and options before committing to a parenting plan. The attorneys at Bubley & Bubley, located in Tampa, provide a full range of family law representation, including child custody. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.