Understanding Your Child Custody Rights

Rights of Contact with Children

Both parents have the legal right to see and have contact with their children and this right is never conditioned upon the payment of support by either parent.

We have often taken on cases to assert father's rights with respect to his child or children. Usually, rights of contact (also called "time sharing") with the child will be required to be fixed and made definite as to days and hours. While the parties may vary those specific rights between them, we find it best if there are specific periods of time to fall back on. Usually the settlement we draw up only asks the court to set parental contact rights in a contested dissolution of marriage.

The Best Interests of The Child

Courts have wide latitude in determining the best interests of the children and this is used as a guiding principle in the court's determination of child issues such as parenting and time sharing.

The court generally awards a parenting plan or arrangement in which both parties are equally involved in all important aspects of the child(rens) welfare. These areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Education
  • Medical and dental care
  • Other responsibilities unique to each family

The court may determine that one parent is proper to making all the parenting decisions for all aspects of the child(rens) welfare but in order to do this the court has to make a finding that involvement of the other parent would be detrimental to the child(ren).

In all cases involving minor children, you will be required to go to an approved parenting class, complete same and then file a certificate of completion.

How a Parenting Plan Is Established

In determining an appropriate parenting plan the court looks at a number of factors in considering the welfare and best interest of the child(ren), including, but not limited to:

  • 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;
  • The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent of third party involvement in those responsibilities;
  • The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs of the parent;
  • The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
  • The geographic viability of the parenting plan with special attention paid to the needs of school-aged children, and the amount of time spent transporting the children for time sharing and other aspects of the parenting plan;
  • The moral fitness of the parents;
  • The mental and physical health of the parents;
  • 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, doctors, daily activities, and favorite things;
  • The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline and daily schedules for homework, meals and bedtime.
  • The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with the other parent and to keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child;
  • Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action regarding those issues;
  • Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect;
  • Evidence of domestic violence or child abuse;
  • The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which the parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties;
  • The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child's school and extra-curricular activities;
  • The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child that is free from substance abuse;
  • The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child;
  • The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child's developmental needs;
  • Any other factor considered by the Court to be relevant for a specific parenting plan, including the time sharing schedule.

***Please note: Effective October 1, 2008, the law regarding child custody and visitation changed to eliminate "primary residential responsibility," "secondary residential responsibility," "custody," "visitation" and other similar terms. Parties will then be required to develop parenting plans and time sharing schedules. In addition, the child support calculation will change to more specifically reflect the time sharing schedule.

Child Custody For Members of the Military

Florida Statute 61.13002 protects members of the military who have a time sharing or custody arrangement with regard to their children. A military member can designate or assign his or her time sharing to a family member if the military member is set for active deployment. Both parents have to agree to the designation, but an objection can only be based on the best interest of the child standard. If there is no agreement, the court may hold an expedited hearing on the matter. Sometimes this is called concurrent custody and the principles can be used in other situations. The team at Mercedes R. Wechsler, P.A. can assist you in securing your time sharing if you are facing deployment.

Mandatory Parenting Class

Any party involved in a dissolution or post judgment action, who has not previously done so, must take the four hour mandatory parenting course when there are minor children involved. There is a list of courses the court has pre-approved, as well as an on-line course that is available. You will need to check with the provider for more information on fees, dates and times. After you have completed the parenting course, you will need to provide our office with your completion certificate. We will then file this with the court as proof of your compliance. Failure to complete the class can result in the court imposing sanctions (costs and penalties) against you, including not granting the relief you are seeking. The point of the course is to educate parents on how to deal with their children and each other during times like this. The course focuses on appropriate behavior and what you as parents can do to help your children cope.

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