What You Need to Know About Child Custody in Florida

As one of a few board certified Jacksonville divorce lawyers, I have handled hundreds of child custody matters. I also have mediated several hundreds of child custody cases. As a social investigator for our circuit, I have prepared over one hundred written recommendations for our family law courts as well as testified as an expert. We no longer refer to child issues in a divorce case in terms of who has "custody". Florida has adopted the term "timesharing". Many people confuse the old term "custody" with "shared parental responsibility". "Shared parental responsiblility" means that you both continue as parents to make decisions for your children and enjoy all of the rights and responsiblities of parenthood. "Sole parental responsiblity" means one person makes all the decisions. This is rare and reserved for extreme cases of abuse to the children or spouse. "Shared parental responsiblity" does not mean what we used to call "joint custody" or now, "equal timesharing". It refers only to decision-making, not the time that the children spend in each parent's home.

Now that we have "timesharing", the children now spend equal time with both parents after a divorce, right? Wrong. We have changed the names but the concepts remain the same. There is NO presumption for "equal timesharing" for both parents, and in fact, it remains disfavored by the Courts especially for school-age children. All timesharing arrangements must be approved by the Court (even if you agree) and approval of "week to week" or "50/50" is rare. Well, as least no one has "custody", right? Wrong again. While changing the names, the now "majority timesharing" parent really is the person who has "custody" or what we used to call the "primary residential parent" and "timesharing" is just a nicer way of saying "visitation". While these are merely "labels", the "majority timesharing" parent does, in effect, have "custody" of the children and with such a designation comes some benefits such as having the children in their care more and choosing their school district. Your Jacksonville divorce lawyer should know your judge, the parenting plan evaluators, and the opposing counsel so that they can maximize your time with your children.

Are you going to be the "majority timesharing" parent? Sixteen years of experience have taught me that the following five questions can answer that question in most cases.

1. Are you the mother? According to a 2009 U.S. Census Bureau Study, only 17.4% of men are custodial parents. This has been unchanged since 1994. Read the report here.

2. Were you a stay-at-home parent for most of the marriage?

3. Did the children stay with you when you and your spouse separated?

4. Do you have temporary "majority timesharing" of your children during the divorce case?

5. Does the parenting plan evaluation recommend you?

If you can answer "yes" to most of these questions, absent some unusual circumstances, there is a good chance that the Court will award you the "majority timesharing" of your children. You can further read the factors that the Court considers here. Even if you answered "no" to most of those questions, you should talk to one of the few board certified Jacksonville divorce lawyers about maximizing your time with your children. And, of course, there are some special considerations for military families.

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