Family Law in Florida: A Guide to Child Custody Laws

On behalf of Eisenmenger, Robinson & Peters, P.A. posted in Family Law on Wednesday, December 28, 2022.

family law in florida

Divorce is hard enough. If child custody is an issue, it can become a complicated and highly emotional situation.

In Florida, custody centers around the children’s best interests. Divorcing parents must resolve custody disputes on their own with a mediator or at trial with a judge making the final decision.

The court decides custody matters based on the circumstances in each case. It’s best to have an experienced attorney who specializes in family law in Florida.

If you’re facing divorce and a child custody decision, there are several major topics that you need to understand. Nearly everything you need to know about child custody in Florida is in this comprehensive article.

Have a Parenting Plan

In Florida, the judge must approve a comprehensive parenting plan. This outlines the responsibilities and decision-making authority of each parent.

The plan must stipulate how each parent will execute their responsibilities, share custody, and provide for the well-being of their child. The plan should specify the parenting arrangement, including the time the child will spend with each parent.

It should outline which parent will bear responsibility for the child’s healthcare, education, and extra-curricular activities.

Be Clear About Time-Sharing Terms

Parenting plans will vary depending on the specific circumstances of each case. The court prioritizes what’s in the best interest of the child.

Typical time-sharing schedules include:

Weekly Arrangement

With a weekly arrangement, the parents alternate weeks for keeping the child. This type of schedule works best when parents have similar work schedules and do not have to juggle days and times.

This schedule provides the child with equal access to both parents and allows them to follow a simple schedule arrangement.

Two Weeks

This parenting arrangement allows the parents to keep the child for two weeks at a time before exchanging. It allows the child to spend longer periods of time in each home.

This situation works well with older children. It allows parents freedom to pursue other opportunities or schedule their work hours when the child is with the other parent.

A 4-3-3-4 Schedule

This is a two-week arrangement that allows a parent to have the child for the first 4 days of the week with the other parent getting the next three days. Then, the next week, they reverse roles.

Parents get equal time, and both parents have the child during the week.

A 2-3-2 Schedule

This is a weekly schedule that allows a parent to keep the child for two days and then exchange with the other parent for three days. The child then goes back to the first parent for two more days.

The following week, parents simply reverse the pattern. This provides children with a regular schedule of seeing both parents equally throughout the month.

A 2-2-5-5 Schedule

With this schedule, parents get a two-day block, followed by a 5-day block. This allows the child longer stays with each parent as they switch the schedule back and forth from week to week.

Talking to Your Child Is Key

Child custody isn’t always easy to decide for parents. Some parents find it difficult to relinquish time with their children.

Divorce is stressful and life-changing for parents and children. Children need help and guidance navigating the process.

Be sure to have conversations with your child to discuss the divorce and custody arrangement. If possible, both parents should participate in these discussions.

Even if things are difficult and chaotic for you, try to be empathetic about what your child is going through. They should continue going to school, socializing with friends, and participating in their favorite activities.

Keeping their lives as normal as possible can help them adjust to the custody arrangement.

What About Uncontested Custody Cases in Florida?

An uncontested custody case is when the parents agree on a custody arrangement before filing a claim. If they are in agreement, it speeds up the legal process.

Unless the terms conflict with Florida child custody laws, the judge will typically ratify the agreement. In most situations, both parents continue contact with their child during custody cases.

Unless there are special circumstances, the court will not reward one parent total responsibility for the child. However, the court may assign specific responsibilities to one parent.

How Does the Court Determine Custody?

When parents are unable to reach a custody agreement on their own, the judge will decide on a parenting plan based on the best interests of the child.

The judge will consider all the facts and circumstances regarding the case before assigning custody. The judge also considers the child’s relationship with each parent and their preferences.

Some factors the judge may consider before assigning custody include:

  • The child’s preference
  • Willingness and ability to meet the child’s needs
  • Willingness to be involved in the child’s education and activities
  • Moral fitness and how it impacts the child
  • The child’s home, school, and community record
  • Parent’s ability and willingness to maintain a relationship with their child
  • Willingness to honor a time-sharing schedule and adapt to changes
  • Ability to act on the needs rather than the wants of their child

Does The Child’s Preference Matter?

A judge can take the child’s preference into account when determining child custody. However, preference isn’t the sole factor the court will consider.

Minor children must have prior court approval to attend a custody hearing. If you want your child to testify, you must schedule a court hearing to present your request.

The judge will consider the reasons you want your child to testify. If allowed, the judge will schedule an in-camera examination in the judge’s office without any attorneys, parents, or other spectators present.

A court reporter will transcribe the conversation for a future court hearing.

What About Co-Parenting in Florida?

Florida places a strong emphasis on the benefits of both parents being involved in their child’s life. A judge will consider a parent’s willingness to cooperate with the other parent without the need for the court’s intervention.

The judge will consider the parent’s ability to communicate with each other and keep the other parent informed about activities and issues that pertain to their child.

The court favors a united front from parents about major issues in their child’s life. Cooperation is key.

A parent can lose parenting time or custody for providing false evidence regarding domestic violence, child abuse, sexual abuse, or child neglect against the other parent.

The Florida court system encourages parents to protect their children from the stresses of divorce, including degrading the other parent in front of the child.

Filing a Custody Case

In 2002, Florida adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. This determines which state has jurisdiction that applies to child custody law.

This UCCJEA prevents parents from attempting to change states to avoid Florida’s child custody laws. The state with jurisdiction is the home state where the child has lived for 6 consecutive months.

If a state doesn’t meet the criteria, the state that fits becomes the home state. When you file a claim in a state with this jurisdiction, no other state can modify, break, or challenge the order.

If your child resides in a new state for more than six months, the original state still has jurisdiction if one parent still resides there. This is known as continuing exclusive jurisdiction.

Who is a Guardian Ad Litem

A guardian ad litem is someone the court or judge automatically appoints in child custody cases. Their role is to act as an advocate for the child, not on behalf of the parents.

The guardian ad litem has the responsibility and power to investigate and report findings to the court to ensure a custody agreement reflects the child’s best interests.

Recording Conversations and Videos

Not all divorce cases are amicable. In fact, many divorces are hostile. Some parents fighting for custody may attempt to malign each other’s character.

It’s common for parents to attempt to record evidence to use against the other parent to strengthen their own case. Florida has strict laws in place about recording another parent.

In Florida, evidence you obtain from illegal oral or electronic recordings cannot be used as evidence. When it comes to finding a family lawyer in Florida that understands the ins and outs of all these proceedings, you can count on our distinguished team.

Modifying Custody Orders

The court expects parents to adhere to the terms of a custody order until there is a change or the youngest child reaches the age of 18. Many people’s lives and financial circumstances change in the years after a divorce.

If you’ve had a significant change in your circumstances or a few years have passed since a custody agreement was issued, it may be time to adjust your custody order.

The parent who wants a modification must prove that a change in the custody order is in the best interests of their child. A parent must show just cause before a judge will consider modifying a child custody order in Florida.

Child Custody and Family Law in Florida

Going through a divorce is a stressful time, to say the least. If you’re facing a child custody dispute, you want an attorney who specializes in family law in Florida by your side.

Whether you and your spouse have come to an agreement on custody matters or you’re facing a fierce battle ahead, you can count on Eisenmenger, Robinson, & Peters, P.A.

Our experienced, knowledgeable attorneys have been serving Central Florida clients for decades. We’d love to talk with you about your family’s needs.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.