CHILD CUSTODY LAW
Florida Child Custody Law
Under Florida family law, child custody is not used as a catch-all phrase. Instead, there are two components to child custody which are considered separately: 1) Parental responsibility, 2) Time-sharing.
Time-sharing is what most people are talking about when they discuss the concept of custody, and reflects how much time the child spends with each parent. Parental responsibility refers to the ability to make decisions which affect the children, and can be assigned equally to both parents or to one parent.
PARENTING PLAN REQUIRED BY COURTS
Divorcing parents are required to come up with a parenting plan which addresses both of these items. If they cannot come up with or agree to a plan, the court will design one for them which is in the best interest of the children. For a full legal description of the parenting plan and what the court considers fair, see the child custody laws for the state of Florida, Section 61.13.
LITIGATING CUSTODY CASES IS EXPENSIVE
For the best interests of your children and your finances, you should follow the initial parenting plan you came up with unless something happens which severely knocks it off balance. If something like this happens, going back to the court with a new, mutually agreed on parenting plan is far less expensive than litigation.
Such litigation can not only involve lawyers, but psychiatrists and other expensive professionals. If, for example, your ex has a new girlfriend or boyfriend and you don’t like them, it would be better to work it out on your own rather than demanding changes to your plan. An acceptable situation for amending your plan is if you don’t find the new boyfriend or girlfriend’s treatment of your children abusive, and efforts to amend things between you and your ex haven’t worked out.
ONLINE OR IN-PERSON PARENTING CLASS REQUIRED
Both parents must take an officially recognized parenting class, either in-person or online. This depends on each county - some make you take it in person, and others are satisfied with an online course. If you would rather not take the online course, you are responsible for ensuring that the parenting class is DCF-approved and authorized by the state of Florida. You can read the guidelines for it here.
EQUAL TIME-SHARING DOES NOT EQUAL NO CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS
Some parents make the assumption that it is worth it financially to litigate time-sharing arrangements in order to zero out child support payments. This is not in the best interest of the child, since your interest in spending time with them is based solely on seeming to improve your finances. It is also an incorrect assumption. The only time child support payments would be zeroed out is if both parents make the same income and spend equal time with the children. Florida child support tables are based on the net income of both parents and other factors, not on time-sharing.
For more information on child support, please see our child support section.