Child custody in Florida has two main elements: pareantal responsibility and timesharing. Parental responsibility deals with who will have decision making authority over all - or some - issues regarding the child(ren), while timesharing governs the actual schedule the parents will use to determine who spends time with the child(ren), including during holidays and breaks from school.
In the vast majority of cases, the parents have "shared" parental responsibility. This means that they must work together in order to make decisions that are in the best interests of the children. This is typically restricted to major decisions, such as where a child will go to school or whether or not he will get braces, as the day-to-day decisions (can the child go to a friend's house, what the child will eat, etc.) are left up to the parent who is timesharing with the child on that particular day.
In order for a court to find that one parent should have sole parental responsibility (meaning that parent makes all the major decisions and has a trump card over the other parent) the court must find that it would be detrimental to the best interst of the child to force the parents to cooperate and make those decisions jointly. This can be the result of a conflict between the parents or the fact that one parent is incapable (due to a drug or alcohol problem, for example.)
There is also an option for shared parental responsibility with decision making authority over a particular issue, such as health care or education. This is reserved for situations where one parent is better suited than another, and it would be detrimental to the child to have that parent have to coordinate decisions with the other. Again, both sole-parental responsibility and shared with decision making authority are very rare and are reserved for extreme circumstances.
The timesharing schedule governs when and where the children are with one parent or another. For example, will there be equal, "50/50" timesharing? Or will one parent have the children every-other weekend? Or will there be an alternative arrangement? In making this decision, the court will look to a variety of factors as outlined in Florida Statute 61.13. As always, the court will need to make a decision as to what is in the best interest of the children when developing the timesharing schedule.
The timesharing schedule will have an impact on child support, as the number of overnight visits each parent exercises with a child in a given year is calculated in the child support guidelines. The more overnights a parent has, the more likely it is that his or her child support payment will be reduced. This applies in circumstances where the parent has "substantial" timesharing, meaning over 20% (approximately 72) overnights per year. This is often a consideration for parents trying to develop a timesharing schedule, as one parent may want credit for more nights in order to reduce his or her child support payment to the other parent.
The parenting plan is the document that will outline both the timesharing schedule and parental responsibility. This document will govern many other issues as well, such as who will pay for certain expenses, whether or not the parents can travel outside of the state or country with the children, and whether or not the parties can appoint babysitters for the children.
These issues are very complicated and the Court is required to consider all of the facts and circumstances in a case in order to make a decision. If you have questions regarding a child custody issue, call us today for a free consultation.