Child Custody Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions about child custody in Florida and how time-sharing matters are decided in Florida.

How is child custody determined in Florida?

The term “custody” does not appear in most Florida family law statutes, however a mother of a child born out of wedlock has sole custody of the child until the father has acknowledged paternity with the mother’s consent or until there is a court order stating the father is the legal father of the child.  If the parents are married, both parents share custody unless there is a court ordered time-sharing plan in place.

Can a parenting plan be modified in Florida?

Yes. A parent may petition to modify the parenting plan if there has been a material, unanticipated, substantial change in circumstances since the time of the currently ordered parenting plan and the modification is found to be in the best interest of the child(ren).

What is joint custody vs. sole custody?

There is no longer joint custody or sole custody in Florida.  Instead terms may include “majority time-sharing” or “equal time-sharing.”  Both parents typically share custody, but the child custody arrangement is spelled out by a parenting plan or time-sharing agreement.  These agreements can either be agreed upon by the parents or ordered by the court during a divorce or paternity case.

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is a document that acts as a guide for how the parents duties will be delegated after separation, which parent is responsible for which aspect of the child’s life, and it lays out the time-sharing arrangement between the parents including holiday schedules. Parenting plans include considerations such as extra-curricular activities, schooling decisions, child care providers, contact between parents, communications between the child and parents, and traveling out of the state or country. A parenting plan is established in all paternity and dissolution of marriage cases in Florida involving minor children.

How long does it take for child custody cases to be decided in Florida?

During a divorce or paternity suit, a time-sharing schedule may be decided on a temporary basis until the final hearing, at which point a final custody schedule will be put into place.  The amount of time it takes for a divorce or paternity suit to be over is dependent on how quickly a hearing can be scheduled and whether the parents are able to reach an agreement easily.  If parents mostly agree, a case may only last a few months or if parents cannot see eye to eye, they may litigate a child custody case for a year or longer.

What if parents cannot agree on a parenting plan?

If parents cannot come to an agreement on their own, or through mediation, the court will order an appropriate parenting plan based on the best interest factors laid out in Florida Statute 61.13.  It is always best to work together to reach an agreement, but a divorce and child custody lawyer may be needed to assist you in getting the time-sharing plan you feel is best for your child if you cannot agree with your ex.

If both parents share custody, who pays child support?

Child support is calculated using the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet laid out in Florida Statutes.  The guidelines are based on the parties income, percentage of overnights spent with each parent, health insurance, daycare costs, and other uncovered medical expenses. Typically, the more time-sharing one parent has, the less child support that parent will have to pay.  A family law attorney can explain how your proposed parenting plan can affect your child support obligation.

Can I refuse to allow visitation if my ex has not paid child support?

No. A parent may not prevent the parent who is failing to pay child support from their court ordered visitation schedule.  If a parent refuses to honor the time-sharing agreement laid out in their parenting plan, the other parent may be entitled to additional time-sharing to make up for the missed time with the child as well as additional sanctions if the judge deems necessary.

How can I increase my chances of getting more time-sharing with my child after separation?

Just be the best parent you can be and try to analyze your situation using the 20 best interest factors considered by Florida family law judges.  All 20 factors are discussed in greater detail here.