In Florida, the children’s best interest is at the center of family law cases involving children including dissolution of marriage (divorce), paternity, parenting plans and timesharing (custody).
What does the Judge Consider when Determining a Child’s Best Interest
There are about twenty factors the judge considers when deciding what is best for a child involved in a family law case. These factors include, but are not limited to:
- Each parent’s ability and disposition to encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent.
- How the parenting responsibilities will be divided between the parents after the case concludes, including the extent to which each parent will delegate parenting responsibilities to third parties.
- How long the child has lived in a stable environment.
- If the proposed parenting plan is geographically viable.
- Each parent’s moral fitness.
- Each parent’s mental and physical health.
- The child’s home, school, and community record.
- The child’s preference if the child is of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a reasonable preference.
- Each parent’s demonstrated ability to stay informed of the child’s circumstances.
- Each parent’s ability to provide the child with a consistent routine.
- Each parent’s ability to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of child-related issues.
- Any evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.
- Any evidence a parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding a prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.
- The parenting tasks each parent has customarily performed and how those responsibilities have been and will be divided during and following the case.
- Each parent’s ability to participate and be involved in the child’s activities.
- Each parent’s ability to protect the child from the litigation and conflict between the parents.
- Each parent’s ability to meet the child’s developmental stages and needs.
Parental Responsibility vs. Timesharing
Two main concepts are involved in child-related family law litigation: parental responsibility and timesharing.
Parental responsibility is the ability to make decisions affecting the child’s health, welfare, and well-being.
There is a rebuttable presumption in Florida that the judge will award shared parental responsibility where the parents confer with each other and jointly decide all major issues affecting the child.
Sole parental responsibility is where one parent can solely make all major decisions affecting the child without consulting with the other parent. The court can order variations of shared and sole parental responsibility.
What evidence is necessary to rebut the presumption in favor of shared parental responsibility is very fact specific. It is best to consult with a qualified family law attorney to discuss the facts and potential outcomes of your case.
Timesharing is the time that the child splits between the parents. A “timesharing schedule” is the schedule the family follows during the regular weekday/weekend, holidays, and breaks.
In July 2023, Florida law changed to make a rebuttable presumption in favor of an equal timesharing schedule. What evidence the court requires to rebut that presumption will depend on the case. It is best to consult with a qualified family law attorney to discuss the facts and potential outcomes of your case.
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