Navigating Time-Sharing and Child Custody in Florida: What Every Parent Should Know
The family law attorneys at Tallahassee’s Cowhey + Ward know that child custody and time sharing are among the most complex and emotionally charged issues addressed by the Florida Family Court system. As such, if you’re a parent facing a child custody case in family court, you must understand the critical aspects of child custody law to ensure that your child’s best interests are met. This article provides essential information that can help you navigate the child custody legal process in Florida.
Understanding the Basics: Child Custody Versus Time Sharing
Florida family law is oriented towards ensuring that following a divorce or separation, both parents have “frequent and continuing” contact with their minor children and encourages both parents to share in the rights, responsibilities, and paternal joy of raising their children. Thus, the concept of time-sharing is a critical component of the law, with Florida Family courts striving to approve parenting plans that let both parents share valuable time with their children. In fact, rather than using the “child custody” term, Florida Statute 61.13 refers to child custody issues as “parental responsibility” and “time-sharing” or “parenting time.”
Primary Legal Standard: Best Interests of the Child
In uncontested divorce cases where both parents agree on a child time-sharing parenting plan, a family court judge will usually approve the plan’s terms provided they are in the child’s best interests, as stated by Statute 61.13. The law and its emphasis on the “best interests of the child” also guides judges in developing a time-sharing plan when parents cannot agree on a time-sharing arrangement. In approving or developing a plan, judges consider numerous factors highlighted by the Statute, including:
- Parental moral fitness.
- Physical and mental health of the parents.
- The geographic viability of the plan..
- Parental willingness and demonstrated ability to consider and act on the child’s needs over their own needs.
- Parental ability and demonstrated capacity relating to involvement in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.
- Parental ability and demonstrated capacity to maintain a consistent routine for the child.
- The desirability of maintaining the child’s existing day-to-day routine, if applicable.
- Parental finances.
- Other relevant factors, as warranted.
Types of Custody Arrangements
While Florida law emphasizes and encourages time-sharing, parental rights are differentiated by the type of custody awarded. Legal custody allows a parent to make decisions that guide a child’s overall well-being and include issues concerning education, medical treatment, and religious practice. Physical custody gives a parent the responsibility of housing the child, tending to their daily needs, and making day-to-day decisions.
Family courts strive to develop custody arrangements that involve both parents, but sole physical or legal custody is awarded when warranted by the child’s best interests. With sole physical custody, the child lives with only one parent.
Due to schooling, work schedules, and living situations, genuine joint physical custody arrangements are rare. Rather, one parent is deemed the “majority time-sharing” parent, and the child may spend a designated amount of time with the other parent as agreed to under the plan. That said, some parents manage to raise their children under joint time-sharing by alternating weeks or days according to a set schedule.
Because joint legal custody involves the sharing of important decision-making, it requires a commitment and ability from both parents to maintain effective communications and work together. A judge will award sole legal custody to a parent if they determine that the other parent is incapable of making important decisions on behalf of the child. If one parent is awarded sole parental responsibility, that parent is permitted to make all major decisions on behalf of the child (without input from the other parent).
In 2023, Section 61.13 was amended to provide that create a “rebuttable presumption that equal time-sharing of a minor child is in the best interests of the minor child.” Such presumption may be overcome by proving by the preponderance of evidence that equal time-sharing is not in the minor child’s best interest.
Time-Sharing Schedules: Creating a Stable Routine
Developing time-sharing schedules is complicated because family courts consider maintaining a stable routine a significant best interest of the child. If the parents live in different towns, a 50-50 time share schedule may not effectively work unless both parents can ensure the child’s regular school attendance. Similarly, parental work schedules can make maintaining a child’s stable routine challenging.
Thus, any parent hoping to optimize their allotted time-sharing in child custody, should work with an experienced family lawyer skilled in child custody matters. A competent family lawyer can help develop and negotiate a time-sharing plan agreeable to the other parent and the family court.
Modifying Custody and Time-Sharing Orders
When approved by a Florida family court, parenting plans are binding on both parents, though the law allows modifications due to substantial changes in circumstances. To successfully secure modifications, the parent must prove how the new circumstances necessitate a change in the parenting plan and that the modification will serve the child’s best interests. As with developing a workable parenting plan that the family court will approve, the assistance of a family law attorney can prove invaluable.
Enforcing Custody and Time-Sharing Orders
If a parent fails to comply with parenting plan terms, the other parent can file a targeted motion with the family court to force compliance. As a targeted motion, it must clearly explain how the other parent is failing to abide by the parenting plan’s terms and how this impacts the child and the complying parent. A family law judge will consider the motion and any supporting evidence during a hearing. If the judge determines that the parent violated parenting plan terms, they have several options, including:
- Ordering the non-compliant parent to make up for any lost child-sharing time.
- Modify the parenting plan.
- Make the offending parent attend a parenting class or community service.
- Order the offender to pay the other parent’s court costs and attorney’s fees.
- Hold the offending parent in contempt of court, with accompanying fines and possible jail time.
- Mandate any other reasonable sanctions.
Seeking Legal Guidance: The Role of an Attorney
Whether you face child custody issues through a contested or non-contested divorce, a skilled family lawyer can protect your parental rights and ensure that you secure fair time sharing with your children. Your family lawyer can help you negotiate a parenting plan agreeable to both parents that works for the children’s best interests. If negotiations fail, your lawyer can help support your parental rights before the family court to secure the most reasonable parenting plan possible.
Consult with Cowhey + Ward on Your Child Custody Case
For child custody guidance and representation in the Leon County, Florida, area, turn to Cowey + Ward Attorneys at Law. Adam Cowhey and Zach Ward have a stellar reputation for approaching every family law case with compassion and dedication to secure positive results. As a past Florida Family Law Rules Committee member, Mr. Cowhey possesses detailed knowledge and up-to-date information on the state’s family laws. To secure the best legal representation before the family court in the Tallahassee area, contact us today at (850) 222-1000.