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Going through a divorce is difficult enough, but when there are children involved it feels that much more challenging. Your primary concern as a parent is what is going to happen to my children? Who will have custody? Who will make decisions on their behalf? What if circumstances regarding the children change after divorce?

Child Custody vs. Parental Responsibility

The first step is to breathe. The second step is to be legally informed and understand the law and your rights as a parent. Each case is different, however, the parental responsibility law in Florida creates a good guideline as to what you could expect. There is no such thing as child custody in Florida, it has been replaced with the term parental responsibility. Florida Statute Section 61.13(3) provides that “when establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan . . . the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.”

What is considered as to the best interests of the child?

Pursuant to Florida Statute 61.13 (3), the determination of the best interests of the child shall be made evaluating all factors that affect the welfare and interests of the minor child and circumstances of that family. Some of these factors include, but not limited to: The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity; The moral fitness of the parents.; The mental and physical health of the parents; and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child; or any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan.

Shared vs. Sole Parental Responsibility vs. Ultimate Decision Making

Most courts order shared parental responsibility meaning both parents are responsible for making decisions on behalf of the child whether it be related to school, medical, travel, extracurricular activities, etc.

While shared parental responsibility affords both parents to have equal major decision making related to the children, Florida does allow another form of shared parental responsibility where one parent has ultimate decision making. This means that if the parties are not unable to agree, then the parent with the ultimate decision-making authority would be able to move forward with their decision despite the other parent’s objection. This type of parental responsibility is rare so to avoid one parent abusing their authority.

Further, in severe circumstances, the court may award sole parental responsibility to the other parent. This is also very rare as the parent seeking sole parental responsibility must prove severe allegations. According to Florida Statute 61.046, sole parental responsibility is defined“court-ordered relationship in which only one parent makes decisions regarding the minor child.” This is usually ordered when one parent is incapable of sharing parental responsibility due to their capacity, substance issues or domestic violence to name a few reasons. The court will always focus on the best interest of the child.

While determining the type of parental responsibility is one part of the process involving children, creating a visitation schedule better known as a Parenting plan. The parenting plan includes not only the type of parental responsibilities, but each parent’s time-sharing schedule with the children, including birthdays and holidays. It also includes details on travel with the children, extracurricular activities, the share of medical costs and child support payments. Each family’s parenting plan differs and reflects what works best for that particular family.

As the children grow older, circumstances may substantially change, and the courts understand that which is why they allow modification of parental responsibility or time-sharing. This may be overwhelming as there are statutes, and various procedures for family law matters which is important to seek the guidance of family law attorney to help you navigate through the process.

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