FLORIDA FAMILY LAW ATTORNEYS EXPLAIN PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY, TIMESHARING (VISITATION) AND CHILD SUPPORT
Florida courts no longer determine which parent will have “custody” or “primary custody” of a child. Instead, Florida courts will decide whether the parents should have shared “parental responsibility,” or whether one parent will have sole parental responsibility. Shared parental responsibility requires that both parents will still have full parental rights and responsibilities of the child, and requires both parents to confer with each other such that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly. Sole parental responsibility means that only one parent will make decisions regarding the minor child on all issues affecting the child or on specific issues indicated (such as education; health care; religious training, etc.).
After the court has decided whether the parents will share parental responsibility, or whether one parent will have sole parental responsibility, the court will then order a “parenting plan.” A parenting plan contains a set of rules that both parents must follow when making decisions about the minor child. A parenting plan may contain information about what the parents should do when making decisions about the child’s health; education; and well-being.
A parenting plan will also include a “timesharing” schedule. Timesharing is the term for what was previously called visitation. The timesharing schedule sets out a schedule for time for each parent to spend with the child and is to be determined by the criteria contained in Section 61.13, Florida Statutes. Timesharing will be determined for weekly timesharing; holidays and birthdays; and for the summer.
HELPING FAMILIES MANAGE CRISIS
Determining issues relating to children such as parental responsibility, timesharing, and child support are among the most contentious issues between parents during and after a divorce. Sessums Law Group, P.A. understands the stress that families go through during this process, and helps families deal with conflicts. Mark A. Sessums is double board certified in Civil Trial Law and Marital &* Family Law by the Florida Bar, so he is especially qualified to help you overcome obstacles relating to your children in your divorce.
HOW CAN I FILE FOR CUSTODY, OR OBTAIN PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY AND TIMESHARING?
A parent or other interested relative can seek responsibility of a child in more than one way. If the parents are getting divorced, one or both parents can ask the court for either sole parental responsibility or shared parental responsibility, and one or both parents can ask the court for majority timesharing. You should ask your divorce attorney to include this request in your divorce paperwork.
If the parents of the child were never married, the child’s mother is the natural guardian of the child, and automatically has the natural right to timesharing and parental responsibility of the child. An unwed father must go to court to secure his parental rights in Florida by bringing a paternity action. If the father has brought a paternity action and asserted his parental rights, either parent can ask the court for either shared or sole parental responsibility, and for timesharing rights.
WHAT TYPES OF CUSTODY, OR PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY AND TIMESHARING, ARE AVAILABLE?
Florida used to recognize “physical” and “legal” custody of a child. However, this is no longer the case. As explained above, Florida courts now determine whether the parents should have “shared” or “sole” parental responsibility of a minor child (similar to legal custody), and then set forth a timesharing schedule (similar to physical custody).
Florida courts can order a number of different custody arrangements in Florida, including, but not limited to:
- Sole parental responsibility with one parent, with sole timesharing for that parent;
- Sole parental responsibility with one parent, but timesharing with both parents;
- Shared parental responsibility for both parents, with one parent having the majority of timesharing; or
- Shared parental responsibility for both parents, with both parents having equal and rotating 50/50 timesharing.
The court may also order a temporary parenting plan while divorce or paternity (unwed father) proceedings are pending. This temporary plan may change after the court has heard the entire case, or if the parents agree to change it.
Both parents have equal rights under Florida Statutes and neither sex has greater rights to timesharing at the start of case until evidence is reviewed and a court makes a decision otherwise. There is a presumption of shared parental responsibility, meaning that the court has to order shared parental responsibility for both parents unless one parent can show that this would be detrimental to the child. Also, there is no presumption for or against any specific timesharing schedule, and the timesharing schedule is determined by what would be in the best interest of the child.
WHAT DO COURTS CONSIDER WHEN DECIDING CUSTODY, OR PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY AND TIMESHARING?
The general rule for deciding the issues of parental responsibility and timesharing for a child is that the court must determine what is in the best interest of the child. Some factors a court may consider in deciding your child’s best interest are:
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.
- The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
- The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.
- The moral fitness of the parents.
- The mental and physical health of the parents.
- The home, school, and community record of the child.
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
- The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.
- The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child.
- Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child.
- Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.
- The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.
- The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.
- The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.
- Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.
DOES FLORIDA HAVE A RELOCATION LAW?
Yes. The requirements for relocation of a parent once there has been an Order establishing the court’s jurisdiction are found in section 61.13001, Florida Statutes. Florida law protects parental rights and parent—child relationships by limiting a parent’s ability to move more than fifty (50) miles away from the child’s current residence. If one parent wants to move, they must notify the other parent and give that parent the opportunity to agree or disagree. If the parents and any other person who is entitled to access to the child agree to the relocation of the child, they must sign a written agreement that:
- Reflects consent to the relocation;
- Defines an access or time-sharing schedule for the non-relocating parent and any other persons who are entitled to access or time-sharing; and
- Describes, if necessary, any transportation arrangements related to access or time-sharing.
If there is an existing court case or court order pertaining to the child’s residence, or a parenting plan and timesharing schedule, the parents need to file the signed agreement with the court and seek ratification of the agreement by court order, in writing, within ten (10) days after filing the agreement.
If the other parent disagrees with the move and objects, then the parent who wishes to move has to file a Petition to Relocate with the court. Relocating the child without an agreement or an order of the Court subjects the person in violation to contempt and other proceedings to compel the return of the child. A Petition to Relocate must include the following:
- A description of the location of the intended new residence, including the state, city, and specific physical address, if known.
- The mailing address of the intended new residence, if not the same as the physical address, if known.
- The home telephone number of the intended new residence, if known.
- The date of the intended move or proposed relocation.
- A detailed statement of the specific reasons for the proposed relocation. If one of the reasons is based upon a job offer that has been reduced to writing, the written job offer must be attached to the petition.
- A proposal for the revised post-relocation schedule for access and time-sharing together with a proposal for the post-relocation transportation arrangements necessary to effectuate time-sharing with the child. Absent the existence of a current, valid order abating, terminating, or restricting access or time-sharing or other good cause predating the petition, failure to comply with this provision renders the petition to relocate legally insufficient.
- Substantially the following statement, in all capital letters and in the same size type, or larger, as the type in the remainder of the petition:
A RESPONSE TO THE PETITION OBJECTING TO RELOCATION MUST BE MADE IN WRITING, FILED WITH THE COURT, AND SERVED ON THE PARENT OR OTHER PERSON SEEKING TO RELOCATE WITHIN 20 DAYS AFTER SERVICE OF THIS PETITION TO RELOCATE. IF YOU FAIL TO TIMELY OBJECT TO THE RELOCATION, THE RELOCATION WILL BE ALLOWED, UNLESS IT IS NOT IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD, WITHOUT FURTHER NOTICE AND WITHOUT A HEARING.
The court will then decide if the parent who wishes to relocate with the child may do so. In making this determination, the Court will consider the following factors:
- The nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the child’s relationship with the parent or other person proposing to relocate with the child and with the non-relocating parent, other persons, siblings, half-siblings, and other significant persons in the child’s life.
- The age and developmental stage of the child, the needs of the child, and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child.
- The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent or other person and the child through substitute arrangements that take into consideration the logistics of contact, access, and time-sharing, as well as the financial circumstances of the parties; whether those factors are sufficient to foster a continuing meaningful relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent or other person; and the likelihood of compliance with the substitute arrangements by the relocating parent or other person once he or she is out of the jurisdiction of the court.
- The child’s preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child.
- Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for both the parent or other person seeking the relocation and the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefits or educational opportunities.
- The reasons each parent or other person is seeking or opposing the relocation.
- The current employment and economic circumstances of each parent or other person and whether the proposed relocation is necessary to improve the economic circumstances of the parent or other person seeking relocation of the child.
- That the relocation is sought in good faith and the extent to which the objecting parent has fulfilled his or her financial obligations to the parent or other person seeking relocation, including child support, spousal support, and marital property and marital debt obligations.
- The career and other opportunities available to the objecting parent or other person if the relocation occurs.
- A history of substance abuse or domestic violence as defined in s. 741.28 or which meets the criteria of s. 39.806(1)(d) by either parent, including a consideration of the severity of such conduct and the failure or success of any attempts at rehabilitation.
- Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child or as set forth in s. 61.13.
We recommend consulting a family law attorney before filing a petition to relocate with a minor child, or before relocating with a minor child. You can schedule a consult with an attorney at Sessums Law Group, P.A. by calling 863-646-8181, or contacting us here.
HOW CAN I GET CHILD SUPPORT?
Obtaining child support is a fairly simple process, and is typically a normal part of divorce and paternity (unwed parents) proceedings. If the parents were married, child support will be determined as a part of the divorce case. If the parents were not married, the parent wishing to obtain child support must first file a paternity petition with the court to establish the parental rights of the father. Once the court has determined the identity of the father conclusively, the parties can seek child support as well as handle parental responsibility and timesharing issues.
Child support amounts are calculated according to Florida’s Child Support Guidelines. The formula for determining child support includes factors such as:
- Both parents’ incomes;
- Financial ability of each parent;
- The particular parenting plan ordered by the court or exercised by the parties;
- Healthcare and childcare costs for the child;
- The child’s medical, psychological, or dental expenses;
- Any special needs of the child that may be required due to a disability;
- The child’s educational expenses;
- Standard needs for the child;
- Independent income of the child;
- The total assets available to the child;
- A child’s age or station in life; and
- The child’s standard of living.
A sliding scale of basic monthly obligations based on the net income of the parents appears in Florida’s child support law.
I LOST MY JOB. CAN I STOP PAYING CHILD SUPPORT?
The best thing to do in this situation is to continue paying support to the extent possible, but to seek a modification of child support order as quickly as possible. Modifying child support payments must be done through a court for an official change to take effect. Reducing child support on your own, without a court order (even if the other party says they agree) can result in a contempt citation and possibly even jail time.
WHEN DOES CHILD SUPPORT END?
Child support obligations in Florida continue in until the child’s 18th birthday, or until the child graduates high school, whichever is later, as long as the child is making a good faith effort to finish high school before age 19. Child support can end sooner if the child marries, joins the Armed Forces, dies, or becomes emancipated. The child support end date can also be altered by a court order.
CALL FAMILY LAW ATTORNEYS IN LAKELAND AND SEBRING TO ARRANGE A MEETING
Sessums Law Group, P.A. represents clients with child-related issues such as custody, or parental responsibility and timesharing, and child support, in and around Polk, Highlands and Hillsborough Counties. We are ready to partner with you to develop a winning strategy. We offer free consultations in personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death cases. Call our office at 863-646-8181 or toll free at 877-826-5630, or contact us online to arrange an appointment. At Sessums Law Group, P.A., we stand for you!