The first thing to understand is that child custody and visitation do not technically exist in Florida. That is to say, family law courts in Florida no longer use those terms the way that they once did. The terms custody and visitation were eliminated from the books in 2008 – along with custodial parent, non-custodial parent, primary residence, and primary residential parent.
So, visitation and custody are gone. They have been replaced with timesharing and parental responsibility. Let’s talk about what they mean.
In the simplest terms, parental responsibility is about which parent has the authority to make major decisions affecting the child. Major decisions include, but are not limited to, decisions about healthcare or education. So, who decides what school your child attends? Do you need the other parent’s consent for medical treatment? The answers to these questions and many more depend on what kind of parental responsibility you have. There are actually three major types – shared parental responsibility, shared parental responsibility with decision-making authority, and sole parental responsibility.
Shared Parental Responsibility
This is the default parenting arrangement in Florida and, all things being equal, it is the one that courts favor the most. With shared parental responsibility, both parents have equal say when it comes to major decisions affecting the child. Because both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities, they must confer with each other and make important decisions together.
Shared Parental Responsibility with Decision-Making Authority
In some cases, parents are unable to agree on what is or is not in their child’s best interests. Maybe they have a genuine difference of opinion. Or maybe one parent lacks sufficient knowledge about a particular subject to contribute to an informed decision-making process. When that happens, judges can award shared parental responsibility while also granting one parent the ultimate decision-making authority in the event an agreement cannot be reached.
For example, if one parent has traditionally played a greater role in the child’s learning such as researching the best schools, helping the child with homework, or meeting with teachers and faculty, the court can give that parent final say over decisions affecting the child’s education. The important thing to remember is that the parents still have to confer and at least try to make a joint decision first.
Sole Parental Responsibility
If the court determines that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child, it can award one parent sole parental responsibility instead. Sole parental responsibility means that one parent is given the exclusive right and responsibility to make major decisions affecting the child. This arrangement is generally disfavored by Florida courts and generally will only be ordered when one parent is unfit to participate in the decision-making process.
Timesharing is the practice of each parent spending a designated amount of time with his or her child.
It is the public policy of the State of Florida that children should have frequent and meaningful contact with both children. This is just another way to say that Florida courts want children to spend as much time as possible with both of their parents.
Even so, there are many factors that influence what sort of timesharing schedule a court is likely to establish or approve. For example, which parent is more likely to allow the child to have meaningful contact with the other parent? What role has each parent traditionally played in the child’s upbringing? Is there evidence of domestic violence or child abuse?
Crafting a fair and equitable timesharing schedule can be both challenging and time-consuming. But doing so early on can be vital to developing a successful co-parenting relationship while providing the kind of stability that young children need.
A reasonable parental responsibility determination and a fair timesharing schedule are both essential components for developing a Florida parenting plan which is mandatory in all cases that involve the care and wellbeing of minor children.
A parenting plan is a written document that sets forth each parent’s rights and responsibilities regarding the child and generally describes how the parent-to-parent and parent-to-child relationships should be handled. At a minimum, the parenting plan must specify what child-related duties each parent will be responsible for on a day-to-day basis and it must include a timesharing schedule that specifies the time the child will spend with each parent (including holidays). When constructing an effective parenting plan, it is important to carefully consider the child’s current and future needs.
We understand the unique and important nature of the parent-child relationship. Our office is dedicated to helping parents maintain those relationships by preserving their rights and the rights of their children. Whether you are going through a custody case now or just have a few questions, we’re here to help. Contact Broward County child custody attorney Andrew Foster to schedule your initial consultation today.