Divorce is never easy, but it’s all the more difficult for couples with children. Child custody is one of the most sensitive issues in a divorce case, and can be one of the most hotly contested. Unfortunately, the conflict that often arises in a custody battle is generally not good for the children, nor for the parents’ ability to work together in the kids’ best interests moving forward.
An experienced child custody lawyer can be your guide through the process, protecting your interests and the interests of your children and keeping the focus on achieving the best outcome for your family. Jacksonville custody lawyer Forefront Law has devoted her career to helping people in difficult circumstances, and understands that every custody case and every family is different. She will listen carefully to your concerns, invest in understanding your goals and then advise you with your priorities in mind.
Understanding Florida Child Custody Laws
Many parents involved in a contentious divorce speak and think in terms of their custody rights. However, Florida courts and legislators see the issue a bit differently. In Florida, the primary consideration in determining custody and visitation is the best interest of the child. The Florida statute also doesn’t use the terms custody and visitation, though those are the terms most people are familiar with. The terms you’ll see in your parenting plan and custody order are parental responsibility and time-sharing.
A divorcing couple in Florida may reach an agreement regarding parental responsibility and time-sharing, but the court must review that agreement and determine that it is in the best interest of the child. When the couple is unable to reach an agreement, the court will hear evidence and make a determination.
Florida Courts Favor Shared Parental Responsibility
The presumption is that it is in the best interest of a child to maintain a relationship with and rely on the support of both parents. So, Florida law requires a court to order shared parental responsibility, unless the court finds that a shared parenting arrangement would be detrimental to the child.
Of course, there are many ways in which parental responsibility and parenting time can be shared. The court has flexibility to grant one parent authority over decisions regarding the child’s welfare, such as education and welfare. The court may also order the parents to make those decisions jointly, or may divide parental responsibilities.
The many possibilities and the long list of factors to be considered may seem complicated and confusing to parents who have little or no experience in the family court system. Some of the key factors the court will consider are:
- The ability and willingness of each parent to foster a continuing relationship between the child and the other parent
- The tendency of each parent to put the child’s needs before his or her own
- The mental and physical health of each parent
- The benefits of continuity in a stable environment the child has grown accustomed to
- The child’s preferences, if the child has the capacity to express a meaningful preference
- Each parent’s knowledge of the child’s life, including friends, teachers, medical providers, and activities
- Any evidence of abuse or neglect
- The parenting role each party played prior to the separation
These are just a few of the significant considerations in a Florida custody determination. The statute sets forth 19 specific factors the court may consider, and then empowers the court to consider any other relevant factor. An experienced Jacksonville custody lawyer will be able to tell you which of these and other factors are most likely to be significant in your case, and what you can do to improve your custody case.
Florida Child Support
In Florida, both parents have an obligation to provide support to the child. While the formula is a bit more complicated in practice, the basic child support calculation in Florida involves adding together the income of both parents, determining the total amount of support that is appropriate, and then allocating responsibility to each parent based on his or her percentage of the total income. A Jacksonville child support order will also provide for medical insurance for the child.
Under certain circumstances, a Florida court may deviate from the standard child support calculation. An experienced Jacksonville child support attorney can explain in greater detail how the standard child support calculation will play out in your situation, and whether there may be any factors to support deviating from the guidelines.
Talk to a Jacksonville Child Custody and Child Support Lawyer
Uncertainty can make an already-difficult process even more stressful. If you are considering divorce or have been served with divorce papers and you have children, it is in your best interest and theirs to educate yourself as soon as possible. Start by consulting a experienced child custody and child support attorney in Jacksonville, Florida. Just call 904-733-9080 or fill out our contact form right now.
Jacksonville Custody and Child Support FAQs
Florida uses the Income Shares method of determining child support. In a nutshell, that means that the court combines the income of the two parents to determine what total household income would be if the parties were still together. That matters because Florida law seeks to provide the child with the same level of support he or she would have received if the family had remained intact.
The total is used to determine the total amount of child support that is appropriate. Then, that amount is divided between the parents in relation to their share of the total income. For instance, if the total amount of child support is $1,000/month and one parent earns 60% of the income, that parent would be responsible for $600 of the support and the other parent would be responsible for $400.
How that translates to actual child support payments made by one parent to the other depends on time-sharing and how much direct support each parent is providing to the child. It is also important to note that the calculation above reflects the simplest scenario. Certain expenses and deductions can impact the actual share of support each parent is responsible for.
People facing a custody battle often ask whether Florida law or the Jacksonville courts favor mothers or fathers. If the parents are not married when the child is born, custody automatically vests in the mother.
However, when parents are divorcing, Florida law treats mothers and fathers equally. The court will decide how much time and what authority should be granted to each parent based on the best interests of the child. Florida custody law lays out a long list of factors to be considered, but all apply equally to mothers and fathers.
Like the laws of most states, Florida custody law requires the judge to base decisions about parental responsibility and parent time sharing on the best interests of the child. Florida law presumes that shared custody is in the child’s best interest, though this presumption can be overcome.
To determine how much time each parent should have with the child and what authority each has, the court will consider factors such as each parent’s existing relationship with and involvement in the care of the child, whether each parent can be relied upon to help the child maintain a relationship with the other parent, and in some cases the preference of the child.
Of course, the court will also consider any factors that might put the child at risk or create a detrimental environment, such as excessive drug or alcohol use or abusive behavior. An experienced Jacksonville custody lawyer will be able to provide more information about the specific elements likely to impact the custody determination in your case.
Many people going through contentious divorces are concerned that the other party will try to prove them an “unfit parent.” While Florida law does define “unfit parent,” that definition appears in the section of the Florida statutes regarding the removal of a child from his or her parents’ care. The term “unfit parent” does not appear in the Florida custody statute, and is not the standard Jacksonville courts use to determine custody.
One of the most important things you can do to strengthen your custody case in Florida is not fight. The ability of the parents to work together in the best interests of the child and the willingness of each to help the child maintain a strong relationship with the other parent are key factors in a custody determination. So, it’s important to leave any fighting necessary to your Jacksonville custody lawyer and make every effort to approach your child’s other parent in the spirit of cooperation.
Of course, it is also important to maintain a positive, stable environment for your child, stay involved in his or her life, refrain from behaviors that may put the child in a negative environment, and stay as involved as possible in your child’s day-to-day life.
Many parents are under the impression that a child of a certain age is entitled to decide for himself or herself which parent to live with. And, many adolescent and teenage children believe they should have the right to make that decision. In Florida, a child never has the right to make that decision unless the child is 18 years of age or older–in which case, there is no custody determination.
The wishes of a minor child in Florida may be considered in a custody case, if the court determines that the child has the necessary intelligence and understanding to express a preference. However, the weight to give to the child’s preference is left to the discretion of the court, and may vary depending on the age of the child, the child’s expressed reasons, and the other considerations in the mix.
Generally, one parent will have a child support obligation even if the child spends exactly half of his or her time with each parent. That’s because under Florida’s Income Shares model, it is rare that each parent would be responsible for exactly half of the child’s support.
That means that one parent’s direct support typically falls short of his or her support obligation, while the other parent’s direct support is more than he or she is expected to provide. To balance this, the court will typically order the parent with more income to pay the difference to the other.
Imagine, for example, that two parents share custody 50/50 and the total amount of child support is $1,200/month. But, one parent earns twice as much as the other, and therefore is responsible for ⅔ of the child support obligation. The higher-earning parent would owe $800, and the lower-earning parent would owe $400. So, the higher-earning parent would generally be ordered to pay $400 to the lower-earning parent.
If that sounds complicated, don’t worry. Your Jacksonville child support lawyer will be able to walk through the calculation with you and give you an idea of what to expect.