Divorces are hard on everyone involved. Your marriage is ending. Your life is changing. And you very well may have to start from scratch on a number of different things. But in time, you will be able to move on and adjust to all the changes.
If you have children, however, a divorce becomes extra complicated. Divorces can be especially hard on children. Not only are their parents splitting up, but they now have to deal with custody arrangements – even if they were made amicably.
When it comes to child custody in Florida, judges will look at what’s in the best interest of the child or children. While they will look at all the facts of the individual case, the law in Florida usually recognizes that children benefit from having contact with both of their parents and from having both parents making parental decisions.
Custody vs. Parental Responsibility
The courts in Florida have been moving away from the term “custody” and instead are opting for “parental responsibility.” In the past, parents would be “awarded custody” of their children, but judges are now assigning parental responsibility to parents in lieu of custody.
If a parent is assigned parental responsibility, that parent is responsible for the child until that child’s 18th birthday or until the child graduates high school by age 19.
Sole vs. Shared Parental Responsibility
Sole parental responsibility (formerly sole custody) is when one parent makes all the decisions for a child without consulting the other parent. These decisions can range from minor decisions – deciding what the child will eat for dinner – to major decisions, such as choosing where the child will go to school.
Sole parental responsibility is usually only given to a parent if the court determines that shared parental responsibility would harm a child. To make this decision, a judge will look at instances of domestic violence, child abuse, abandonment, and neglect.
If the court assigns one parent sole responsibility, a judge will then make time-sharing arrangements that will protect the child, which could possibly mean that there will be no time-sharing arrangements.
Shared Parental Responsibility
Shared parental responsibility (formerly joint custody) is when both parents have full responsibility and parental rights concerning their child. Both parents must consult with one another to make decisions about the child. These decisions include:
- Where the child will live
- Where the child will go to school
- What religion the child will take part in, if any
- What medical and dental care will be provided
As long as the child will remain safe with both parents, shared parental responsibility is favored in Florida. The courts do not give any parent a greater right to parental responsibility. They believe that it’s important for a child to have a positive relationship with both parents, which is why they encourage shared parental responsibility in most cases.
Once shared parental responsibility is assigned, both parents will be required by Florida law to create a written parenting plan. The plan has to provide detailed information that establishes the roles of each parent and their specific responsibilities. A good parenting plan will include:
- A description for who will be responsible for daily parenting duties
- A description for who will be responsible for school or health issues
- Addresses for the child’s school and other activities
- How the parents will communicate with their child, specifying methods and technologies
- A time-sharing schedule
What does this schedule do? It outlines the specific time periods that the child will spend with both parents, according to the agreement that they settle on. The schedule must account for any overnight stays and all holidays so there won’t be any issues later on.
The parenting plan is created in order to make decisions regarding your child’s health, education, and their physical, emotional, and social well being easier. If the parents can’t agree on a plan or the judge doesn’t approve of the presented plan, that judge can decide to make his or her own parenting plan if necessary.
When a couple divorces and they have a child, the judge will look at all the factors in order to make an informed decision that is in the best interest of the child. With shared parental responsibility, the courts hope that each parent will be able and willing to communicate with each other to keep the other parent informed, present a united front on big issues, and to protect the child from the stress of the divorce.
If you’re thinking about divorce and want to discuss your parental responsibility options, contact a knowledgeable Florida divorce attorney today.