If you are in the Sunshine State and you are separating from your child’s other parent, you might be concerned about how Florida custody laws work. The good news is that in many cases, both parents can share custody and parenting responsibilities, but there are, of course, exceptions. Here are some of the basics of Florida custody laws. If you need information on your specific case, however, you should consult with either an attorney or a legal resource group like National Family Solutions.
Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody
In Florida courts, the best interest of the child standard is used in determining a custody court order of two different types:
- Joint custody: If both parents share these responsibilities, that is called joint custody.
- Sole custody: If one parent is given the legal and physical responsibilities of caring for the child(ren), that is called sole custody. Sole custody refers to both legal and physical custody.
This is fairly uncommon, but a parent with sole custody will have the child(ren) living with them and will also have both the right and responsibility to provide health insurance and medical care, choose which school the child(ren) will attend, the practicing religion of the child(ren), and make other day-to-day and long-term decisions. This does not mean that the other parent will not be able to participate in shared parental responsibility, however, except for in specific and extraordinary circumstances (such as abuse or untreated substance addiction).
Even if you do not have sole legal custody, you will, in most cases, still be able to spend time with your child(ren), have him or her for overnights, and so on. In some cases, visitation will need to be supervised; this is something that will be determined by a judge. In most joint custody cases, parents agree on a time sharing schedule for when a minor child divides his or her time between the two parents’ homes. The child(ren) will spend roughly equal time with each parent, depending on the circumstances.
For example, a nursing baby or toddler will likely spend more time with their mother because she is the one who is nursing. Once the child gets older, however, the time spent with the father will usually become more equitable. Similarly, when a child goes to school, time with an out-of-town parent might be impacted. Overall, however, both parents will be spending a lot of time with the child(ren) and will also both be responsible for making big-picture decisions, taking them to medical appointments, and taking them to religious services (if desired).
If there are serious circumstances that make it unsafe for a child to be with their other parent, a judge will take that into consideration when making decisions about custody. Some of these extraordinary circumstances would include (but is not limited to):
- History of domestic violence or abuse
- Drug or alcohol addiction
- Untreated severe mental health condition
In these cases, visitation might be supervised or, and in the most severe cases, not allowed at all. If you believe that your child is unsafe with his or her other parent, it is important to contact the local authorities, if applicable, and your legal counsel team or resource group.
Ways to Lose Custody of Your Child
In Florida, there are some situations that are taken seriously and could impact whether you have custody of your child(ren). In some cases, these things might make it, so the other parent has your child(ren) more than you do, so it is wise to avoid them. Parental alienation is talking badly of your ex in front of your child(ren). This can be damaging not only to the relationship between your child and his or her other parent but also to your child’s self-esteem.
It is fine if you do not get along well with your child’s other parent and it is normal to have feelings of hurt or anger, but it is not appropriate to vent those feelings to your child(ren). Confide in a friend, family member, therapist or counselor to discuss your feelings and situation. False accusations of abuse are also not looked kindly upon in Florida. If you believe that your child is being abused, then of course you must speak up immediately.
If you were to make up allegations, however, and the judge finds out, you might find that you are found unfit to parent by a judge. This could result in a loss of custody. Child abuse, neglect and abandonment are all actions that could lead to a loss of custody. Abuse could be physical, emotional, or sexual. Neglect would include not providing a proper place for the child(ren) to live, living in filth or squalor, not sending them to school, not feeding them properly, etc.
If you are having trouble providing for your child(ren), there are resources available. Talk to your legal advocate to help you find the help that you need. The good news is that in when it comes to custody in Florida, judges are aware that having a relationship with both parents is beneficial to both the parent and the child(ren). Both fathers and mothers are assumed to have equal rights toward parenting their child(ren), in general. In specific cases, one parent’s moral fitness may not qualify for joint custody, but that will not be based on race or gender.
In the state of Florida, it should be noted that for same-sex parents to share custody of their child(ren), both must be established as legal parents. This means that if there is only one biological parent, the other parent must adopt the child(ren) to retain or uphold their parental rights. Both parents can also be put on the child’s birth certificate. The same rule would apply to stepparents of either sex. Unless you are the legal parent, you would not be entitled to visitation or custody.
If you have questions or concerns about Florida custody laws, talk to the legal advocates at National Family Solutions. We can help you understand Florida custody laws and teach you how to represent yourself in court.