Under Florida law, child custody is decided by the courts based on the best interests of the child under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, a national set of laws governing child custody throughout the country. Child custody includes both legal and physical custody. Parents with legal custody of their child are allowed to make decisions regarding education, religion, medical care, and discipline. Physical custody involves the actual location where the child will reside.
Child custody may be either shared or sole custody. The Florida courts have a strong preference for shared custody arrangements, also known as “time-sharing,” unless there is evidence to suggest that shared custody would not be in the best interests of the child.
In Florida, parents have the option to agree on a parenting plan outside of the courtroom, which establishes the “time-sharing” schedule for the parents and addresses how parental responsibilities, including legal decisions, will be handled between the two parties. The time-sharing schedule sets forth the time that each parent will spend with their children during the week and during the weekends, as well as where they will sleep each night. These schedules also address where children will spend their time during school breaks, long weekends, and on holidays.
If parents are able to agree on a parenting plan through negotiation, they can then submit the plan to the court, where it will be approved as long as both legal and physical custody have been adequately addressed.
Best Interests of the Child
When parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan for their children, the court must determine one for them. This determination is based on the best interests of the child and includes many different factors, such as:
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable and satisfactory environment
- The geographical viability of the individual parent’s homes
- The moral fitness of both parents
- The mental and physical health of both parents
- The demonstrated ability of each parent to provide a consistent routine
- The demonstrated ability of each parent to communicate with the other
- Any knowledge of domestic violence or abuse occurring within the household
- Any substance abuse by either parent