Divorce is always an emotional experience, but adding in the stress of figuring out child custody can turn a simple divorce into a nightmare. Parents have much stronger feelings about where their children end up than they have about material possessions, so compromises are more difficult to reach. In Florida, child custody comprises two distinct parts: parental responsibility (legal custody) and time sharing (physical custody). All parents asking for divorce must agree on both parts of child custody, or the court will do it for them.
Parental responsibility, or legal custody, refers to the ability to make decisions about important parts of the child’s life, such as education, healthcare, and religion. Parental responsibility is typically divided equally between the two parents unless there are special circumstances. For example, if one parent has shown a pattern of making poor choices for the child, their parental responsibility may be lessened and more control given to the other parent. Also, if one parent spends substantially more time with the child as part of the time-sharing agreement, that parent may also be awarded more parental responsibility.
Time sharing, or physical custody, refers to how the child’s time is divided between the two parents. In a perfect world, all divorced parents would have their children exactly 50% of the time. However, there are many factors that must be considered when planning a child’s physical custody schedule. For this reason, the court prefers for divorcing parents to have a time-sharing agreement already worked out prior to their divorce hearing date. If the divorcing parents cannot agree about how to share the child’s time, the court will step in to make the decision based on the evidence presented. Some factors the court will consider when determining a time sharing schedule include:
- Emotional ties between the child and either parent
- Each parent’s willingness to allow the child time with the other parent
- Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s material needs
- The stability of each parent’s nonmarital home
- Physical, mental, and moral health of each parent
- School or community records related to the child
- The child’s preference, if the child has enough age and experience to understand the ramifications of choosing one parent over the other
Many other factors can also be considered at the judge’s discretion. If you expect child custody to be an issue in your court proceedings, be sure to notify your attorney and bring all relevant evidence on the day of your divorce hearing.
A judge’s decision in a child custody case is legal and binding, and both parties must comply whether or not they agree with it. Either parent can ask the judge to reconsider the order in light of additional evidence, or can even appeal the decision in appeals court.
If you are currently going through a divorce in the Tampa area and don’t want to deal with the confusing court system alone, contact Caveda Law Firm for a free consultation. We can help you prepare for both divorce and child custody matters in order for you to get the most favorable outcome for your situation. Call us at (813) 463-0800 today to schedule your consultation and take some of the stress out of your court proceedings.