Understanding how child custody is determined in Florida

Making the decision to end your marriage is difficult no matter your circumstances. If you and your spouse have children, though, working out a parenting plan will make your divorce more complex than it may otherwise be. You two may disagree about parenting matters, and you may fear you will end up in a protracted fight if you cannot reach consensus.

Regardless of how you and your spouse resolve your dispute, it is imperative to understand Florida’s custody laws. Under these, any custody arrangements you set forth in your parenting plan must prioritize your children’s best interests.

The difference between legal and physical custody

Florida refers to legal custody as parental responsibility and physical custody as time-sharing. Parental responsibility designates which parent – whether you, your spouse or both of you – will make decisions for and about your children. And time-sharing designates the arrangement in which you and your spouse will live with and spend time with your children.

Two different types of parental responsibility exist in Florida, being shared and sole. Under state law, the court will assume it is in the best interests of your children if you and your spouse share parental responsibilities. Yet, if one of you has conduct issues, an award of sole parental responsibility to the other parent may be appropriate.

Three different types of time-sharing exist in Florida, being equal, majority and supervised. If the court awards you and your spouse equal time-sharing, your children will split their time evenly between your households. If one of you receives majority time-sharing, your household will be your children’s primary residence. The other, in this case, will likely receive minority time-sharing, which includes overnights. Supervised time-sharing is uncommon. The court will only award it in your divorce if you or your spouse’s conduct makes it unsafe for your children to be with you without a third party present.

Factors that affect custody in Florida

Your children’s best interests will dictate how your parental responsibility and time-sharing arrangements take shape. To determine these, the court will consider numerous factors regarding their well-being. Among these factors are:

  • How close you and your spouse will live to each other after your divorce
  • The relationship your children have with their home, community and school
  • Your and your spouse’s ability to act on behalf of your children, instead of in your own interests
  • Your and your spouse’s ability to create a stable home environment for your children
  • Your and your spouse’s ability to provide a consistent routine for your children
  • Your and your spouse’s physical health, mental health and moral fitness
  • Your children’s preferences, provided they are of a certain age or maturity
  • Whether you or your spouse has a history of violence, abuse, abandonment or neglect

No matter how challenging it is to reach consensus on custody matters, you must make sure you put your children first when resolving them. By consulting an attorney, you can work to establish parental responsibility and time-sharing arrangements that reflect your family’s needs.

FindLaw Network