How Does Child Custody Work in Florida?

In a Florida domestic relations case, such as divorce or paternity, there is no such thing as “child custody.” Custody tends to give an appearance of possession or ownership. Children are not property to be possessed or owned. Instead, the law sees it as the parents have a right to parent their children and children have a right to be parented. The right to parent one’s child is broken down into parental responsibility and time-share.

A Parenting Plan will be agreed upon or ordered by the court. This plan will address the parental responsibility and the specifics of weekly and holiday contact and other ways to communicate with the child while he/she is in the care of the other parent. Time-sharing can be shared equally between the parents in a fifty-fifty (50-50) time-share arrangement, or the child may spend more time with one parent than he/she does with the other parent. Percentage of timeshare is determined by calculating the number of overnights spent with each parent. The Parenting Plan will also determine how each parent will communicate with the child while he/she is with the other parent, such as by telephone, text messaging, video conferencing, or email.

Parental responsibility may be shared or sole.   Each of these are court ordered relationships between the parents. With sole parental responsibility, one parent is given sole discretion to make all major life decisions. “Major life decisions” include decisions pertaining to the education, health, and welfare of the child. Shared parental responsibility, however, is ordered in the vast majority of cases. Shared parental responsibility requires both parents to come together to make major life decisions about the children. Day-to-day decisions are made by each individual parent when the child is in their care and custody at the time. The choice between sole or shared parental responsibility will come down to what the court believes is in the best interests of the child. Sole parental responsibility will be ordered only if shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.

In Florida, it is public policy that children have regular and continuing contact with both of their parents after the parents have separated or divorced. Parents are encouraged to share in the joys of child rearing and neither parent is presumed to get the majority of the time. In other words, mothers and fathers have equal rights over the time they get with their children. A time-sharing schedule will be agreed to or ordered by the court. This schedule will include where the children will stay during the week and weekend. It will also include a detailed holiday schedule.