When you’re going through a divorce, there are numerous things you need to think about. How will you divide your assets? Who will get the house? Will there be alimony? And if you have kids, then you have to think about child support and who will get custody.
Since your children are one of the most important things in your life – if not the most important thing – having to deal with a custody dispute can be especially stressful. That’s why it’s vital to make sure you understand what’s necessary for you to settle on a custody arrangement and prevent your kids’ lives from being disrupted as much as possible. Here are four things you need to know about child custody in Florida.
1. Child custody is now called time-sharing. The Florida statutes don’t use the word “custody” when referring to who will be responsible for a child. Instead, both parents have “time-sharing” with their children along with designated parental responsibilities. Both parents need to create and agree on a time-sharing schedule approved by the courts. If the parents cannot agree on their own schedule, the court will make the schedule for them.
2. You will have to create a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a document that clearly states how each of you will parent your kids after a divorce or a paternity case. If there are common children, then there has to be a parenting plan. At a minimum, the parenting plan will include:
- The time-sharing schedule
- A holiday time-sharing schedule
- Who will be responsible for certain daily parenting tasks
- Who will be responsible for health care and school issues
- Any information related to the child’s education, extracurricular activities, child care, travel, etc.
- A plan for how the parents will communicate with each other and with their child
Notice that child support isn’t part of the parenting plan. In our state, it is handled separately.
3. Florida favors equal time-sharing with parents. The law in Florida says that children tend to benefit from having frequent contact with both parents, and from having both parents involved in making parental decisions after a divorce. So when you’re in the midst of a divorce, neither parent starts with any greater right to have more time-sharing than the other parent.
The big exception to this rule is if equal time-sharing will be detrimental to the child. When determining a time-sharing schedule for a child, the court will look at a number of factors, such as the child’s health and safety, emotional and developmental needs, moral and ethical development, and the parents’ communication and co-parenting skills.
4. The parenting plan isn’t set in stone. If your personal situation changes for a number of reasons, you can petition the court to modify the parenting plan or time-sharing schedule. A move, a new job, or even the age of the child could be potential reasons to want to adjust your original parenting plan. But in order for a judge to grant the changes, you have to show that there was a “substantial, unanticipated” change of circumstances and that changing the plan will be in the best interest of the child.
By itself, divorce alone can be difficult, but once you also start factoring in your children, you can easily feel overwhelmed. That’s why it’s important to contact an experienced and affordable Florida family lawyer to guide you every step of the way.