Child Custody and Parenting Time (Visitation)
Our attorneys have the experience and expertise to guide our clients through the often complex issues of child custody, parental responsibility and parenting time (visitation). Whether you are getting divorced, already divorced, or were never married, knowledgeable advice and skilled representation from our experienced family law attorneys can assist you in your pursuit of a fair custody arrangement. The resolution of child custody and parenting time disputes require divorcing parents to act rationally in their child's best interests at a time when they are facing the overwhelming stress of divorce. Early involvement by a family law attorney with knowledge and experience in child custody law can make a substantial difference in the outcome of the case.
There are as many different custody and parent time arrangements as there are families in the State of Florida. Each family’s arrangement is uniquely constructed to suit the best interest of the children and the real life demands of the parents. In Florida, if the parents cannot come to an agreement on a custody and parenting time arrangement, the court will make a custody decision based on the “best interest” of the child(ren). Usually, the court will order that parental responsibility be shared by both parents unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child. The parties or the court may also choose to designate one parent as the primary residential parent. In deciding which parent should have primary residence, the court will consider:
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the nonresidential parent
- The love, affection and other emotional ties between the parents and the child
- Each parent's ability to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care and other material needs
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity
- The permanence of the existing or proposed custodial home
- The moral fitness of the parents
- The mental and physical health of the parents
- The home, school and community record of the child
- The reference of the child, if the child is intelligent, understanding and experienced enough to express a preference
- Evidence of domestic violence or child abuse
Custody and Parenting Time in the Divorce Process
The issues of custody and parenting time usually first arise when a divorcing couple with children decides to separate. Some couples immediately reach an agreement on short or long-term custody and parenting time arrangement, others require mediation or a court determination. While the divorce is pending, the parties can enter into a temporary agreement or the court can determine a temporary custody arrangement based on what is in the best interest of the child(ren).
If necessary, the parties may choose to go to trial on the issues of permanent custody and parenting time and the court will make a final determination, which will become part of the final judgment of divorce. The courts’ decision will be based on what is in the best interest of the child(ren) and may include: a review of the child's age and attachment to the parent who has been the primary caretaker; parental physical and mental health; any history of domestic violence; and the child's wishes, depending upon the age of the child and the motivation for the preference.
Once custody has been established through agreement or court order, parents may seek court involvement to modify the established arrangement. To support a modification request, the parent seeking the modification must usually show a substantial change in circumstances. If you have an existing child support order and believe that it should be changed for any reason, please schedule an appointment to speak with a knowledgeable family law attorney about your concerns. In some cases, an emergency motion to change custody may be appropriate to protect the safety of a child(ren).
The term “parental alienation”, not to be confused with “parental alienation syndrome”, means a lot of things in different contexts. Here we use the term to mean one parent’s efforts to limit the other parent’s right and ability to be a parent to their child(ren). In some cases, one parent will relocate to physically keep the child away from the other parent. In other cases, one parent will limit the other parent’s access to information about or time with the child. And in other case, one parent may speak disparaging about the other parent to the child(ren), in effort to turn the child against the other parent. These are all examples of parental alienation. We represent parents in this difficult situation, employing all the legal options available to correct the alienation before it results in long term damage to the parent-child relationship. If you have a parental alienation problem, please contact our office to discuss your legal options.