How Will a Judge Decide Who Gets Child Custody in Florida?
Divorce and child custody are ranked very high on the Holmes and Rahe Life Change Stress Units scale, with divorce ranking number second in terms of the most stressful life events. The only other thing in life more stressful than divorce according to this scale is the death of a spouse.
One of the reasons these breakups are so stressful is because child custody becomes a life-changer.
Parents wonder if they are going to lose their child or see that relationship changed forever.
Under this pressure, you want to be sure you are equipped with the best information possible. Find out here what to expect in your child custody matter when a Florida judge decides the rest of your family’s life.
Florida Child Custody Basics
When it comes to child custody in Florida, there are a few basic terms you need to learn right away. There is legal custody, physical custody, sole custody, and shared or joint custody.
Then you need to understand the differences between custody and responsibilities. Parenting time is not the same as parenting responsibilities.
The one thing that often muddies all of this up for parents is the emotional factor of divorce and custody. Breakups are emotional and painful, and many parents go into a divorce or child custody matter feeling contentious and vengeful.
Going into a custody matter with this mindset will work against you. Florida judges don’t care about how sad you are about a breakup when determining which parent gets custody.
They are only looking for a solution that fits the best interest of the child. And the term “best interest of the child” should be at the top of your mind when you are in the middle of a heated custody battle.
The definition of “best interests of the child” is defined by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.
There are exceptions to this, such as abuse and domestic violence. Those factors too will be considered by your Florida judge, when you have evidence to substantiate those claims.
Defining Custody Terms
In Florida, judges will decide who gets legal custody, who gets physical custody, and whether or not joint custody will occur.
Custody is a decision on where the child lives, and when they live there. In addition to custody decisions, judges will determine who has parental responsibilities.
This is different than determining where a child lives. Parental responsibilities decisions involve determining who is responsible for what in the child’s life.
Responsibilities determine who decides what in the child’s life, including school choices, dentist appointments, medical decisions, and more.
So even if your child does not live with you full-time, you can negotiate what responsibilities are yours when it comes to determining child custody.
In most cases, by the time these decisions are made before you go before a judge, the two parents and their lawyers can hash something out that makes everybody happy.
What is Joint Custody?
Joint or shared custody is the most common form of custody in Florida, as Florida judges want to ensure that both parents are taking an active role in a child’s life. Joint custody usually means you share both responsibilities and access times with your child.
It is not called “visitation.” When your child is with you, you are their parent.
You are not visiting them. You are not babysitting them. You are performing your legal responsibilities to your child.
Judges do not look kindly on actions that include shutting a parent out of a child’s life because you are emotionally upset with them.
So it is in your child’s best interests to avoid an acrimonious situation.
And that’s a good thing. You are entitled to help from the other parent when you are raising a child.
Joint Custody Example
For example, let’s say enrolling a special needs child in an extracurricular activity would help them socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. But the activity sometimes falls on the access times of the other parent, who isn’t interested in doing this because they are feeling spiteful towards you.
You want a judge telling that parent, this is not okay, wise up.
The more conciliatory and harmonious you are with the other parent, at all times, and in custody court, the more you are going to look like the winning party. And, the more likely you are to get what you want.
Remember that in child custody court, the only party that is supposed to win is the child.
Can I Get Sole Custody?
Sole custody in Florida is possible, but it is often an uphill battle. It is rarely granted unless you can prove to the court that the other parent is simply unable to or unwilling to share responsibilities of parenting.
Sole custody often involves one parent taking on the most time with living with the child, and also becomes the main decision-maker of the child.
But this does not mean that the other parent disappears from the child’s life. If this is the mindset you go in with when seeking sole custody, you are going to be disappointed.
Judges will often grant sole custody in matters that are high conflict, entail abuse or violence, or when a parent is an absentee parent.
Many parents are able to negotiate sound parenting plans with the other parent in a custody matter. Florida requires a parenting plan, and Florida judges expect you to be able to reach this plan in a sound way with all parties.
Sometimes This is Not Possible
If this is impossible, either due to an absentee parent or a high-conflict situation, then you are getting closer to sole custody. Other situations such as abuse, domestic violence, incarceration, or drug abuse could also lead to sole custody.
Judges also look at moral fitness when determining custody. If one parent, for example, has a revolving door of boyfriends or girlfriends, a judge may not be keen on permitting a child to live there most of the time.
At the same time, sole custody does not mean the other parent disappears from the child’s life. It means the child lives with you the most, and you make big decisions.
The other parent is still permitted access time, and judges even expect and encourage this when possible.
Leave Emotions Out of It
How you feel about the other parent is not a factor in determining the best interests of the child in child custody.
But the reality is that sometimes you just can’t do that. As in the example above, if another parent is impeding with your child’s best interests, a Florida judge is not going to have that and will grant sole custody to the parent that is contributing the most to the best interests of the child.
If that is repetitive and consistent behavior by one parent, this could be determined to be a high conflict situation and sole custody could be the outcome.
Judges Are Tie-Breakers
Florida judges consider the law, that stipulates that it is your responsibility to protect your child from pain during divorce and custody matters. If one parent is unable to do that, it is going to harm them in a custody matter.
When that happens, a Florida judge will be the tie-breaker on custody decisions and will do so with protecting the child in mind at all costs.
This is why it is always best to be conciliatory in court, and when mapping out a parenting plan. The last thing you want is for the control of the rest of your life to be taken out of your hands and determined by a judge.
But if you are in a custody matter, this is the risk that you take. Be rational and fact-based, and not emotional.
This is why divorce lawyers are worth it. It gives you peace of mind as someone takes the problem out of your hands while you sort out the specifics and resolve the emotional battles on your own, outside of court.
Determining Best Interests of the Child
Florida judges move to protect the child at all costs at first and will use the legal definition of the best interests of the child to determine sole custody.
That usually involves looking at a child’s life to see what would lead to the least amount of emotional disturbance for a child. If a child has been living in one home their entire life, without frequent moves, for example, that home will likely be the home for primary custody and access.
But that alone is not going to get anyone sole custody, it’s simply used as a guideline by judges when determining the legal specifics of best interests of a child.
At the same time, the judge will want to decide on an environment that ensures the child has regular contact with the non-residential mother or father. This is the legal rights of the child.
Where the child is going to school will also play a role, as most judges do not want this disruption.
The strength of the relationships between the child and parent also plays a role in the best interests of the child. The parent that is providing the most basic necessities to the child will also be the residential parent that is in the child’s best interests.
Moral fitness is also a factor in determining the best interests of the child.
Contact a Custody Lawyer Today
Florida is ranked in the middle of the road when it comes to overall happiness in America. One of the things impacting this rate is its divorce and child custody rates, which rank among the highest in the nation.
Child custody matters are matters that change everybody’s life, in a way that permanently alters them. This is why divorce ranks so high on the Holmes and Rahe scale.
Many Florida residents think representing themselves in court will make the process easier and less expensive. But the truth is, child custody matters are determined by a Florida judge who looks at the facts at hand, and not the emotions.
Self-representing could lead to emotions getting tangled up in your matter, which could lead to decisions that are not in the best interests of your child.
Give yourself and your child some peace of mind. Custody lawyers are worth their weight in gold, and can even pursue costs from the other party for you if this is a concern.
Sleep better tonight and contact a Florida child custody lawyer today.