When parents divorce in the state of Florida, the courts are most concerned about the welfare of the children. In the eyes of Florida law, there is no bias towards either the father or mother providing care (excepting a mother nursing an infant child); because of this neutral stance, it is not uncommon for parental time-sharing agreements to be structured.
Custody in Florida: An Overview
In Florida, “custody” is not a legally recognized term in the state’s courts of law, but is instead referred to as time-sharing. Parental time-sharing is common in most situations, but when the courts deem such an arrangement would prove detrimental to the children’s benefit, sole parental responsibility can apply. Even in such cases, supervised contact is encouraged, if at all possible (it is an extreme and rare case that would cause the courts to completely block time or contact with a parent).
While an entirely equal parental time-sharing arrangement is generally preferred on both sides, in the majority of cases it is not a realistic or practical solution. This is not a reflection on the parenting skills of either party; lifestyles, careers, and locality can all impact and influence the parental time-sharing agreement. For instance, one parent may have a busier work schedule than the other parent, with less free time available to be with the children. In such a case, the courts would likely decide to divide the time as fairly as possible between the two parents, so the children can still grow up in both residences but would allot more childcare time to the parent with the lighter workload.
Finally, it should be remembered that parental time-sharing, even when equally divided between the two parents, does not eliminate the possibility of one parent providing child support. Usually, the court will order the person with higher earnings to pay child support to continue the lifestyle to which the children became accustomed. Again, the courts are considering the needs and welfare of the children when determining child support payments; there are no “moral” judgments made upon parents, even if they had an affair while married. Consequently, no parent will be punished for their marital misbehavior by excessive child support payments. Also, if one spouse was unemployed during the marriage, alimony payments may apply in the divorce.
Joint Custody vs. Parental Time-Sharing
Another term that has been updated to better reflect current times and attitudes, joint custody is now referred to as joint parental responsibility in Florida. Joint parental responsibility is different than parental time-sharing, in that parents have an equal say in decisions concerning the child (even when parental time-sharing is not 50%); this includes health care, educational, religious, and other choices commonly left in the hands of parents.
There are situations and conditions where the parent’s right to parental time-sharing and joint parental responsibility can be suspended or revoked, but this occurs only in serious or drastic cases. There are five main scenarios in which this can occur:
- Unfitness occurs when a parent has abused, neglected, or abandoned their children; also a longstanding history of mental illness or drug abuse does not label a person as a bad parent but their behaviors are often erratic or dangerous, making it unsafe for children
- Unsafe environment refers to living in a neighborhood with a high crime rate, a building regularly cited for health and safety concerns, or a home that is not up to code; moving to a better housing situation can easily resolve this problem
- Unclean environment involves living in unsanitary conditions, such as houses with black mold, vermin infestation, and other obviously unhealthy and dangerous health hazards; either moving or thoroughly cleaning the residence is the logical solution
- False accusations of abuse against the other parent are also completely unacceptable; this traumatizes the child and unfairly presents the charged parent as unfit to care for their children (the courts consider this an act of mental unfitness, often causing the accuser to lose custody)
- Parental alienation does not falsely accuse the other parent of abuse but consists of regularly talking badly about the other parent, trying to stir up anger in their children against the other parent, or even refusing to reasonably cooperate in co-parenting
As can be seen, each of these situations can be remedied by simple actions or behavior changes; granted, tackling mental illness and/or drug addiction is not easy but even that is possible given today’s resources and support systems (and well worth the effort for both the afflicted parent and their children).
Examples of Parental Time-Sharing
Courts grant much flexibility in creating workable parental time-sharing schedules, preferring that the divorcing parents reach a fair agreement rather than requiring the law to step in to create an arbitrary arrangement. While divorces are not always friendly, parental time-sharing is a case where it is important that both parties set aside their personal differences and focus on the needs and welfare of their children.
Fortunately, there are many ways to structure parental time-sharing schedules to accommodate the needs of the children while also taking into account the different commitments each parent has due to work or proximity to their children. The following are some common methods that work smoothly for both parents and the children using a 50/50 time-sharing arrangement…
- Weekly exchange – when work schedules are similar for both parents, there is little need to juggle times and days; for children, it gives them an easy calendar to follow (i.e., after school on every Friday, they head to the new home)
- Two weeks at a time – this gives more time in each home and generally works better for older children, particularly teenagers; it also gives busier parents opportunities to schedule their heavier work times during the children’s absence
- Monthly exchange – again more ideal for older children, this gives both parents and kids the opportunity to settle into a family life without feeling as if it is uprooted too soon
- A 3-4-4-3 schedule – this is a two-week arrangement where the first week one parent (let’s say Mom) has the children for 4 days, while the other parent (Dad) has them for 3 days; the next week, it switches so the Dad gets 4 days and Mom has 3 days
- A 2-2-5-5 schedule – another two-week agreement that lets parents each get two-day blocks, followed by each getting 5-day blocks with the kids; for example, Mom starts with them for 2 days, then Dad gets 2 days, then back to Mom for 5 days, and then to Dad for 5 days, at which point the cycle repeats
- A 2-3-2 schedule – this is a weekly schedule that alternates between Mom and Dad each week; for instance, in week 1, Mom has them for 2 days, then Dad gets them for 3 days, and then back to Mom for 2 days, after which it reverses with Mom getting the 3 days between Dad’s two stints of 2 days each
The above are examples of 50/50 parental time-sharing schedules that have worked for other families, but similar arrangements can be made for other shared time allotments (i.e., 60/40, 70/30, etc.). Keep in mind that as children mature, they should have a greater say in the parental time-sharing agreement; this is not to say they can determine the percentage of time spent with each parent, but they should be able to decide what length of time at each home works best for them. An excellent tool to assist in creating workable parental time-sharing schedules is Custody X Change, a software program popular with parents and legal professionals.
Because of the emotional and legal ramifications of divorce, working with a qualified divorce attorney is essential. At Florida Law Advisors, your case receives our full attention and commitment to deliver the results you are seeking. Contact us today to learn how to make your divorce as smooth and positive as possible for yourself and your children.