What was once known as child custody and visitation in family law cases has changed much over the years. Even the terms custody and visitation have changed, in fact, they are no longer used. Since 2011, the Florida courts employ the terms parental responsibility and parental time sharing to describe what most of the general public still refer to as child custody and visitation.
In Florida, except in rare instances, no parent is completely cut off from parental responsibility and time sharing with their children. It is possible however to get sole parental responsibility if it can be demonstrated that the other parent is unfit to share these responsibilities of child rearing. When I am discussing parental responsibility, I am referring specifically to such things as 1)the ability to make a decision without the other parent concerning major child issues; and 2)the ability to determine when, where, how often, and under what circumstances the other parent may share time with their children;
In making parenting decisions, Florida courts make a distinction between parental responsibility (custody) and parental time sharing (visitation). In 2011, when Governor Scott signed the bill changing the terms from custody and visitation to parental responsibility and parental time sharing, the thought was that parents aren’t “visiting” their children, they are in fact parenting them. Now, the distinction between the two is important. Parental responsibility concerns the actual decision making authority about the child’s health and welfare, including their education, their extracurricular activities, etc. The courts generally give both parents shared parenting decisions and generally this isn’t a problem unless of course one of the parents is demonstrably unstable and incapable of fulfilling this parental responsibility.
Florida courts encourage parents to devise a parenting plan they can submit to the court for approval. Obviously, this is in the best interests of the parents (if possible) and in general, in the best interests of the children involved. If this can’t be resolved between the parents, the court will make a decision and devise some sort of shared parental responsibility. There are notable exceptions to this. For instance, if the parents can’t agree about a medical procedure. One parent has specific religious beliefs regarding modern medicine and the child has some diagnosed medical conditions that one parent does not believe they should be taking medications. The court may award one parent to make all the medical decision making in a case such as this. In the general circumstance, a solid parenting plan should include the following:
- the parents ability to nurture and support the child emotionally and financially
- the ability to assess the various needs of the child and respond appropriately
- the ability to provide a stable home life for the child
- the emotional, physical, mental health of each parent
- any reports of abuse or neglect on the part of the parents of the child
In reviewing the Parental Plan, the courts will keep the best interests of the child first and foremost in making any decisions.
While Florida courts will not terminate the parental responsibility rights or parental sharing rights of one parent, the courts will make decisions based on specific circumstances that are deemed in the best interests of the children. The outdated concept of sole custody is not something to which the Florida courts are eager to consider. If that remains your goal, you have an uphill battle and must have clear and convincing proof why this is necessary. An experienced divorce lawyer who has handled all aspects of family law will be able to advise you concerning an appropriate course of action. If you have questions or concerns about these issues, please contact me. I would be happy to review your situation with you and advise you accordingly.