When two parents end their relationship, their decision affects more than themselves. They are also shaping their children’s futures. When parents no longer live together, they must determine where their children will live and for how long.
In most states, this is known as “child custody.” However, in Florida, it is referred to as parental time-sharing instead. Regardless of the term used, determining who will raise the children is crucial to securing a stable future for them. Here is how these issues are decided in Florida and what to expect.
Child Custody vs. Parental Time-Sharing: What’s the Difference in Florida?
Florida strongly prioritizes strong parent-child relationships and ongoing support for children in its family law code. This is why the state chose to revise its terminology in 2008. The legislature decided to eliminate certain words from its custody laws entirely.
The state replaced them with broader alternatives intended to highlight that parenting is a responsibility and children are not possessions to be won or lost. The two most important changes to the language of Florida child custody laws are as follows:
- Physical custody was replaced by “time-sharing”
- Legal custody was replaced by “parental responsibility”
However, beyond these terminology changes, the laws are similar to other states. In fact, the similarities are so great that many sources continue to use the old terms interchangeably with the new ones to encourage understanding.
How Does Florida Determine Parental Responsibility and Time-Sharing?
By default, Florida family courts will assume that both parents should receive equal parenting time and responsibilities toward their children. However, the state puts children’s safety and well-being above equal custody divisions.
If parents cannot agree on a 50/50 division of parenting time or if it would harm the children, courts can award one parent primary or sole responsibility for the children and reduce or entirely cut the other parent’s right to spend time with their kids. This is known as the best interests of the child standard.
How the Child’s Best Interests Affect Parental Responsibility Decisions
According to Florida Statute Section 61.13(3), “The court shall determine all matters relating to parenting and time-sharing of each minor child of the parties in accordance with the best interests of the child.” To determine the best interests, courts are instructed to consider:
- The parents’ abilities and willingness to care for the child
- The “moral fitness” of each parent to raise the child
- Where the child currently lives and goes to school
- The child’s preferences
It goes on to state, “The court shall order that the parental responsibility for a minor child be shared by both parents unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.”
In other words, courts will assume it to be best for children if their parents retain joint responsibility and time-sharing unless evidence suggests otherwise. Examples of issues that would cause courts to think splitting responsibility would be detrimental to a child include:
- A parent has been convicted of domestic violent
- A parent has met the criteria for state revocation of parental rights
- A parent has been convicted of sexual assault of a minor
In these circumstances, the court may remove all parental responsibility from that person. For lesser concerns, such as unstable housing, unreliable schedules, or health concerns, the court may grant one person primary time-sharing while still granting joint responsibility.
What to Expect During the Time-Share Proceedings
In most cases, the court will expect parents to work together to share parental responsibility. This includes developing a parenting time-sharing plan and presenting it to the court for approval.
When parents collaborate, they can design their own time-sharing plan according to their family’s preferences and needs. This includes deciding between a 50/50 split or having the children spend more time with one person. As long as both parents agree on the result, they can divide their time however they want.
Parenting plans must also answer questions such as:
- How the parental responsibilities and obligations will be divided
- How the adults will communicate with each other and their children about the plan
- How major decisions about schooling and healthcare will be made
When parents can work together, they will draft their parenting plan with the help of an experienced family law attorney and present it to the court for approval. The judge will review their plan to ensure it contains all appropriate information and either approve it or request revisions if necessary. Once a plan is approved, it will remain in effect until the children turn 18 or either parent can demonstrate there were material, substantial changes to their circumstances that require it to be modified.
If parents cannot collaborate, the court will issue a plan on their behalf. This process can take several months, especially if either parent seeks sole responsibility. The court must review the child’s best interests and determine how to divide responsibilities and time between adults. As such, it is preferable for parents to work together rather than have the court issue an order.
Experienced Florida Family Attorneys for Your Parental Responsibility Case
Regardless of the terminology, dividing time with and responsibility for your child is a fundamental part of your divorce. It’s also a complicated process. If you’re preparing to seek parental responsibility or time-sharing in Florida, you should get expert help. Look no further than The Hache Law Firm P.A. Our skilled attorneys have spent years giving Florida families thoughtful, comprehensive legal counsel during custody and parental responsibility cases. We can help you draft your parenting plan and pursue your child’s best interests in family court. Learn more about how we can help during child custody cases by scheduling your consultation today.