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The “Best Interests” Standard in Florida (Part One)

Parents may face child custody proceedings for many reasons. While many custody determinations occur as part of a divorce case, others may occur following a paternity determination or to later modify a previous custody arrangement or parenting plan. While family court judges must evaluate each case based on its individual circumstances, the child time-sharing laws in Florida require the courts to use the same standard in every case. This standard is referred to as the “best interests of the child.”

Courts generally presume that it is in the best interests of a child to maintain contact and relationships with both parents and neither favor the mother nor the father. Additionally, it is generally preferred for both parents to be involved in the decision-making process regarding how the child is raised. The courts will consider many different factors relating to parenting and the needs of the child in question when determining what arrangement is in the child’s best interest. Though the law offers some suggestions regarding factors to analyze, the court has discretion to consider any factor it deems relevant to the situation. The following are some examples of factors that are regularly considered:

Safety and Health

First and foremost, the time-sharing agreement and parenting plan should keep the child healthy and safe. If a court finds that a relationship with one parent may put the child at risk, it will not favor a shared parenting arrangement. For example, some of the following factors may cause a parent to lose custody and visitation rights:

  • History of domestic violence;
  • History of sexual violence;
  • Any evidence of child neglect, abandonment, or abuse;
  • Evidence of substance abuse in the home of a parent; and
  • Mental or physical conditions of the parent that may keep them from adequately caring for the child.

If the court has concerns, it can allow visitation though require the visits to be supervised to ensure the child is safe.

Developmental and Emotional Needs of the Child

Courts want to make sure that a parent desires to foster and maintain a meaningful relationship with their child. For this reason, courts often examine how involved a parent has been in the different aspects of a child’s life thus far. This may include whether a parent has played an active role in the child’s education or extracurricular activities, whether a parent has a relationship with the child’s teachers, coaches, medical providers, and other important figures in their life, and whether a parent is familiar with and encourages a child’s friendships, hobbies, and other healthy activities.

Additionally, the court may examine each parent’s ability to provide a stable routine for a child, including maintaining current schedules for school and activities. Courts try to minimize the disruption in a child’s life and, therefore, will consider the geographic location of each parent’s home, whether the child will have to switch schools, whether constant travel between the homes will be exhausting for the child, and more. Whenever possible, a court tries to allow the child to remain in their current community and school.

The above are only some examples of factors that courts may consider when making custody determinations. We will explore more in Part Two of this article. If you have any questions regarding child custody, call the Boca Raton office of family law attorney Alan R. Burton for help today.

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