Custody Rights for Fathers
Custody of children, child support and visitation is a difficult area of the law for the family court judge to decide. When both parents fervently believe that they are the "best" parent to have "custody" of their child or children it can be a harrowing, expensive and extremely emotional experience. This occurs not only for the parents but it affects the children or child as well.
Establishing Custody Rights for Fathers in Florida
Florida's Custody Rights (aka Time Sharing Schedule and Parenting Plans) require that the court consider "the best interest of the child(ren)" when the court is deciding a child custody case (time sharing schedule and parenting plan). It sounds simple but it involves many factors and is quite complicated. After considering these many different factors the court makes a parenting plan determination. Some of the factors 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.
Sometimes a parenting evaluation can be Ordered or a Guardian ad Litem is appointed. An independent investigation is Ordered and a report filed to assist the court in its custody determination. This is only a partial list. The court can use whatever other evidence that is submitted at the hearing, including testimony, to determine the best interests of the child(ren).
These are some of the factors that the court should use when determining the best interests of the child(ren). There is no method of determining the best interests of the child(ren). There is no exact way to determine if the factors are applied fairly under the circumstances in any individual case. It is important to discuss all the factors with an experienced family law attorney.
Both parents must attend a parenting class prior to a divorce.
This is the most important area of your case in the judge’s eyes. Under Florida law both parents must attend a parenting class prior to getting a divorce. The parenting class helps parents to understand their changing roles.
This change is short as well as long term. You will have to deal with your ex-spouse for many years to come regarding the child(ren). Always remember that the child(ren) are not "your" child(ren) but "our" children. When testifying it is important to use the "our" child(ren) as the court will appreciate that you understand this important distinction.
Modifying Custody Rights for Fathers
Modification of Time Sharing and visitation is possible after a final decision is made by the court. The burden of proof is on the parent that wants to change the time sharing arrangement. The non-custodial parent must prove that there has been a significant and material change in circumstances since the last Order was entered. This is a highly technical area of the law and you should contact an attorney to determine if your present custody (time sharing) arrangement can be modified. Again, make sure that if you enter into any agreements regarding the custody (time sharing) of your child(ren) it is important that you understand your legal rights prior to signing the agreement.