Children Issues: Child Custody and Time Sharing

Several important legal issues relating to minor children must be addressed whenever the parents of those children live, or plan to live, apart and disagree on the rearing, support, and living arrangements of the children. These issues arise whether or not the parents of the children were ever married. Until October 1, 2008, Florida Law provided for one party to be the custodial parent, or primary residential parent, of the minor child(ren) and the other parent to be the noncustodial parent, or secondary residential parent, with visitation rights.

Effective October 1, 2008, the terms custodial parents, primary residential parents, noncustodial parents and secondary residential parents have been removed from the statute. The rights and obligations of all parents in the State of Florida are now to be governed by a parenting plan, which includes a time sharing schedule for parents and children.

The purpose of the change in the language of the statute was to discourage parties from litigating over labels that marginalize one parent. The Florida statute requires the elaboration of a detailed parenting plan that clearly and specifically outlines the time sharing arrangement that the child(ren) will enjoy with each parent throughout the year, including weekends, weekdays, holidays, school vacations, birthdays etc.

The parties can, and are encouraged to, negotiate and try to reach an agreement on a detailed parenting plan, but if they fail to agree on this important issue, the court will impose a parenting plan after taking into account a variety of factors outlined in the statute. These factors include: (1) the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required; (2) the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent; (3) the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity; (4) the moral fitness of the parents; (5) the mental and physical health of the parents; (6) the home, school, and community record of the child; (7) the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference; (8) the demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things; (9) the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily scheduled for homework, meals, and bedtime; (10) the demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child; (11) the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child; (12) evidence of domestic violence; (13) the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities; and (14) various other factors.

In a great majority of all cases, the parental responsibility of the minor child(ren) is shared. That means that the major decisions regarding the raising of the minor child(ren) must be made jointly by the parties. Neither party has decision – making authority over the other party relating to the major decisions of the children, unless emergency or other compelling circumstances warrant unilateral action.

The complexity of the issues involving children of separated parents, the importance of establishing a parenting plan that will allow you to have a meaningful relationship with your child(ren) free of interference, and the special circumstances of each particular case make the assistance of an attorney who has addressed these issues many times over the years, invaluable.

This is probably your first time dealing with these important issues, but it certainly is not ours…

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