For nearly every divorcing parent, child custody ranks at or near the top of their list of concerns. However, in Florida, “custody” isn’t often a legal concern. The relevant terms in Florida are parental responsibility and timesharing, and your child’s best interests drive the outcome of both.
These are important distinctions, because as one judge notes, the courts make their decisions based on the law and the evidence. You want to understand what the law really says because those words will shape your future with your child.
What does the law actually say?
In most divorce cases, Florida statute 61.13(3) governs the assignment of parental responsibilities and timesharing. The exceptions tend to involve cases of domestic violence or convictions. Notably, cases driven by statute 61.13(3) will almost never result in “full custody” awards to one parent or the other. This is because the law mandates shared parental responsibilities unless such an award would be bad for the child.
Additionally, it is essential to remember that the law focuses on what is best for your child. The law focuses on your child’s best interests, and the court will as well. Its understanding of your child’s best interests will follow a review of 20 different factors, including:
- Each parent’s demonstrated efforts to foster a close parent-child relationship, honor the timesharing schedule and be reasonable about adjusting to changes as needed.
- How the parents expect to split parental responsibilities such as education, religious upbringing and health care.
- Each parent’s demonstrated ability to put the child’s needs ahead of their own.
- The stability of the child’s current home life.
- Each parent’s moral fitness.
- Each parent’s physical and mental fitness.
- The child’s wishes.
- Each parent’s efforts to provide a consistent routine and daily schedule.
If you take your concerns about parental responsibilities and timesharing to court, the court will review all 20 of the listed factors. Not only will it review the full list, but it will look at the evidence you supply to address each of the factors.
How does this information affect my strategy?
The judge pointed out how parents and lawyers sometimes miss their mark. The law has changed somewhat since he wrote his message, but his points remain. Parents and lawyers lose their way when they focus on what the parents want. There are not two sides to a custody case; there are three sides, and the court sides with the child and the child’s best interests.
Accordingly, parents need to consider not only the 20 factors the court will review, but the types of questions the courts will use to explore each of those factors. For example, when courts look at the issue of sharing parental responsibilities and timesharing, they want to see evidence that parents will encourage relationships with the other parent:
- Has either parent intentionally moved far away from the other?
- Have the parents provided prompt updates for addresses, emails and phone numbers?
- Have the parents encouraged their child to phone the other parent?
- Does one parent demand the other pick up and drop off the child, or do both drive for exchanges?
- Are both parents sending updates from schools or doctors to the other?
The law expects you to help your child form a good relationship with your ex. You may want to talk down your ex in court to win more time, but this can be a risky strategy. In trying to prove that your ex is morally unfit or just isn’t as good a parent, you may be painting yourself as someone unwilling to support your child’s relationships with both parents. It’s important that you understand how the court may view your evidence so that you can make your case most effectively.
Find the right path to pursue your goals
The law is crystal clear when it prioritizes your child’s best interests. Florida’s courts never assign parental responsibilities and timesharing based on the parents’ interests; they focus on what is best for your child.
But what is best for your child? You and your ex may have different opinions. If so, you may be able to resolve them in mediation and retain control over the whole process. If you cannot, then you may need to bring them to court. In court, it’s important that you support your view with the right type of evidence—evidence that remains fully focused on your child’s bests interests.