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How do Florida judges determine child custody?

Child custody is an important issue for couples going through divorce, and often a very contentious issue. Couples who cannot agree on a parenting time arrangement, of course, have to have a judge step in and decide things for them. But how exactly do judges make child custody determinations?

The key factor for judges in establishing child custody arrangements is the best interests of the child. Florida state law says that the best interests of the child is the “primary consideration” in custody matters. This term refers to that which it is most conducive to a child’s health and welfare. State law identifies various factors judges are able to take into consideration when determining best interests. We’ll look at a couple of these here. 

One factor judges are able to look at when determining best interests of a child is the willingness of each parent to cooperate in carrying out a parenting time schedule and allowing the child to have an ongoing relationship with the other parent. This is a particularly important factor, because custody arrangements and parenting time schedules are not effective if parents do not abide by them and cooperate with their former spouse in the parent-child relationship. If a judge sees that it is likely that a parent will have to be dragged back into court later to enforce an order, the judge may simply decide to reduce that parent’s participation in the process for the good of the child.

Another factor judges look at when determining custody is the length of time the child has resided in a stable and satisfactory home environment. Courts may sometimes choose to keep a child in a particular living arrangement even when other arrangements are possible and desired by the other parent, due to the desirability of maintaining continuity of home life for a child.

In a future post, we’ll look at some of the other factors Florida courts can take into consideration when determining the best interests of the child.

Source: Florida State Legislature, “2014 Florida Statutes: Support of children; parenting and time-sharing; powers of court,” Accessed Dec. 18, 2014. 

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