Divorce can be extremely stressful, especially when children are involved. Explore how custody and child visitation is determined during proceedings.
A recent census found that 69% of children under the age of 18 live with two parents while another 23% live with their mother. The other 10% live with their father, nonparental family members, or other legal guardians.
The road to child custody and child visitation is often a rocky one. It’s not as simple as following the child’s wishes, although what the child wants does play a large role in the proceedings.
Without a strong grasp on custody and visitation laws, it can be difficult to make the case that will grant you the relationship with your child that you desire.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about how child custody and visitation schedules are determined in Florida.
The 2019 Florida Statues regarding child custody can be confusing for those who do not have a background in law. For this reason, it is in your best interest to hire an attorney that specializes in child custody law.
To help you understand what to expect of this process, we’ve broken down the basics regarding the establishment of child custody.
Legal and Physical Custody
Child custody determines who is in charge of care, decision-making, and maintenance of a child under the age of 18. The state of Florida breaks custody down into legal custody and physical custody.
A parent with legal custody has the right to make educational, medical, religious, and disciplinary decisions for the child. A parent with physical custody is responsible for providing basic necessities. They live with the child and must ensure day-to-day wellness.
Typically, the parent who has physical custody will also have legal custody. However, the Florida court can establish forms of custody in which these responsibilities are divided up between two parents.
Sole Custody and Joint Custody
Sole custody grants both legal and physical custody to one parent. Joint custody, which Florida refers to as shared parental responsibility, entails that both parents share legal and physical custody.
If you and your former spouse are granted joint custody, there is still the question of who will be named the primary joint custodian. It is expected that both parents will reach agreements relating to legal custody. However, the child will live with their primary joint custodian for the majority of the year.
The Florida court system prefers to establish shared parental responsibility as frequently as possible. However, whether or not they can do so depends on a number of factors that we will discuss below.
Factors That Affect Custody
Initially, you, your former spouse, and your child have a say in the most suitable custodial arrangement. However, if you cannot come to an agreement with the help of mediation, the decision will go to the court.
The court will take into consideration the following:
- The moral, mental, and physical status of each parent
- The parents’ ability to provide financial and emotional support
- The willingness of both parents to honor the time-sharing schedule
- The parents’ ability to meet the child’s developmental needs
- The involvement of each parent with the child including, but not limited to, attendance of parent-teacher conferences, special events, and doctors’ appointments
- The necessity of third-party care such as a nanny
- The permanence of the proposed primary home and the continuity of the child’s current situation
- The child’s history at home and at school
- Existing ties and love and affection between the child and parents
- Any history of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or neglect
The court is looking to see if the child has a better relationship with a certain parent. They’re also ensuring that the parent can provide stability and security for the child. Sole custody is usually only rewarded if there is a history of domestic violence with one of the parents or if one of the parents was never involved in the child’s life.
Gathering the necessary information can be overwhelming. You will need to have documents that reveal your own income and involvement in the child’s life, amongst other things. Fortunately, there are plenty of online resources that will help you through this process.
In nearly every case, visitation is required. Even if one parent has sole custody, they can only deny the other parent visitation rights if the court has deemed this the best option for the child. We will discuss child visitation guidelines below.
Establishing a Child Visitation Schedule
According to Florida State Law, a parenting plan is required even when the parents are not disputing a time-sharing schedule. This parenting plan should be agreed upon by both parents. Once the parents have come to an agreement, the court must approve it.
If the parents cannot come to an agreement, the court will settle upon a parenting plan that is still legally binding. If one or both parents refuse to cooperate with the parenting plan, they will face legal consequences.
The Types of Parenting Plans
There are three main types of parenting plans that may be used in settling visitation rights.
A typical time-sharing plan is used when both parents are deemed fit to care for the child. It is used when the parents receive joint custody.
A supervised and safety-focused parenting plan is necessary only when one parent requires supervised visitations. It is used when one parent has sole custody but the other parent is not barred from seeing the child altogether.
A relocation or long-distance parenting plan is necessary when one parent is relocating to an area that is not considered local to the other parent. Even if one parent moves for their job or other valid reasons, they still have the right to see their child a reasonable number of times a year. Note that the primary joint custodian may also relocate as long as it is not deemed harmful to the child.
What Goes Into a Parenting Plan
A parenting plan establishes the responsibilities divided between two parents of a child. It also determines the visitation schedule they must follow. When you’re settling on a visitation schedule, there are certain things you will need to discuss.
First, establish a residential schedule. This relates to the day-to-day care and outlines what days of the week or weekends of the month that the child is staying with each parent.
Second, discuss a holiday schedule. This can be a sensitive topic because oftentimes, both parents want to spend major holidays or birthdays with their child.
You may have to make concessions that hurt in the present. Remember that you are doing what’s best for the child by allowing them to spend quality time with your former spouse.
Finally, establish a summer vacation schedule. Summer is often a time that the non-primary joint custodian can spend more time with their child because the child is no longer location-bound to their school district. Many parents divide summer vacation time-sharing evenly but this up to you and your former partner.
Remember that you have to discuss not only the time shared with each parent but also the modes of transportation the child can rely on. Will one of you pick the child up from the other’s home? Will you involve a third party or establish a neutral meeting ground?
These may seem like things that you can establish on a day-to-day basis but the court will want answers upfront. Once again, it is in the child’s best interest that you hammer out all of these details with a mediator or in court. Otherwise, you run the risk of personal feelings getting in the way of the child’s ability to see both parents.
How Is a Child Visitation Schedule Settled?
In the process of determining a workable visitation schedule, the court will once again revisit the questions they asked in deciding upon custody. Some of the main concerns will revolve around each parent’s ability to take the child to school. In other words, if one parent lives far from the child’s school, they will likely not receive weekday overnight visitation.
Once a visitation schedule is agreed upon, modification is not ideal. It will only happen if material, substantial, and unanticipated changes occur.
For example, the visitation schedule may be altered if one parent loses their job and is no longer financially able to provide for the child. It also may be altered if one parent has a drug or alcohol relapse, experiences mental illness issues, or runs into problems with the law.
Overall, the ultimate goal of the court is to ensure stability for the child in spite of the change in relationship status between the two parents.
Find a Child Custody and Visitation Attorney in Orlando, Florida
If you are seeking legal counsel to settle issues of child custody and child visitation in Orlando, Florida, you’ve come to the right place.
Contact us so that we can discuss your case as well as any financial concerns and scheduling concerns you may have.