Custody Doesn’t Mean What You Think in Florida
The word custody when it comes to a child or children in a divorce is thrown around very often. But as is the case with many kinds of legal terms, the legal definition of custody in Florida is much different than the meaning that most of the population gives to it.
While it isn’t necessary that you become a family law legal scholar to understand how the legal definition affects your rights, it is important to have a working knowledge of the terms used so that you have an idea of what to expect if you’re anticipating a divorce.
Custody Has No Legal Meaning
You read that correctly: Florida has done away with the legal definition of custody. Rather, Florida has divided the term into two separate terms: parental responsibility (or decision making) and time sharing.
Florida has a presumption in favor of shared, equal decision making. That presumption can be overcome with a showing that one parent is not fit to make decisions or that it isn’t in the child’s best interests, but in general, so long as both parents are fit, they will jointly make decisions about major things in the child’s life. That can include where the child goes to school, enrollment in after-school activities, or participation in a given religion.
Time sharing is where the child actually, physically resides. There is no presumption against any particular schedule, and that means that the court will be neutral on whether the parties will share time with a child 50-50. The court will look to the best interests of the child, so if spending half time with one parent and half with the other would complicate going to school or social activities, or if one parent’s home is not set up for or appropriate for the child to spend extensive time there, one parent may get more time with the child than the other.
The logic is that courts understand that it may be best for a child to spend more time in one parent’s home than the other’s (or one parent may have a schedule that’s able to accommodate the child better than the other), but that does not affect the right of the other parent to raise their child and make decisions about the child’s life.
The Parenting Plan
Florida courts will fill out a parenting plan in a divorce case whenever minor children are involved (or else, the parties can complete one on their own, if they are able to agree). The parenting plan is a list of almost every aspect of a child’s life and daily activities that clearly delineates which parent will be responsible for what area of a child’s life.
Everything from how child exchanges are done, to out of state travel, to how a parent communicates with the child when he/she is with the other parent is covered in the plan. If you are thinking about a divorce, you may want to review the form to get an idea of the kinds of decisions you and your spouse will have to make about your child.
If you have a Florida divorce or child custody problem, make sure your attorneys are ready to help you from the very start. Contact Tampa family law attorneys at the Pawlowski/Mastrilli Law Group for help.