Florida courts make custody decisions with the best interests of the child in mind. While collaborating on a strong custody plan can be emotionally challenging and complex, doing so supports your child’s well-being.
Understanding the child custody process can help parents and guardians navigate the legal system during a separation or divorce.
Types of child custody
The state defines both physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where the child resides, while legal custody pertains to decision-making authority for the child. Parents can have sole custody or share these responsibilities through joint custody arrangements.
Florida law requires parents to create a parenting plan. This document outlines the division of parental responsibilities, including:
- Time-sharing arrangements
- Decision-making process
- Daily routines
- Educational choices
- Healthcare decisions
This comprehensive plan should cover all important aspects of your child’s life.
Best interests of the child standards
The court examines a range of factors to determine the child’s best interests. These factors include the child’s age, physical and emotional health, educational and social needs, the ability of each parent to provide a stable environment and any history of abuse or neglect. The judge may also consider the child’s preference, depending on their age and maturity.
With a law passed in June 2023, the state presumes that 50/50 custody with equal time for each parent serves the child’s best interests. However, parents can choose a different arrangement if they prefer.
The mediation process
Before proceeding to court, the state often requires parents to take part in mediation. During mediation, a neutral third party helps parents reach an agreement about child custody. If the parents are unable to agree, the case proceeds to court.
If the custody case ends up in court, both parents have the opportunity to present their case. Based on their testimony, the judge decides based on the best interests of the child. The court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s interests and investigate the family’s circumstances.
Parental responsibility and time-sharing
State law encourages shared parental responsibility whenever possible. Time-sharing schedules must allow each parent significant, continuous contact with the child. The court aims to create a plan that fosters a strong parent-child relationship.
After you reach a child custody agreement in Florida, you must follow its terms unless either parent has a substantial change in circumstances. In this case, you can petition the court for a modification. Examples include a change in work schedule, relocation or concerns about the child’s well-being.