Articles Posted in Custody

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In recent decades, Florida courts have shown more appreciation for the important role of fathers in their children’s lives. For example, the idea of a mother having “primary custody” of the children while the father only has “visitation” is mostly a thing of the past. Today, parenting plans contain a lot more detail and nuance about the role of each parent. All of this is simple enough when it comes to fathers who have gone through a divorce from the children’s mother.  But what about when the child’s parents were never married to each other? Then is it easy for the mother to keep the children away from the father?  In order for unmarried fathers to be able to defend their legal rights to a meaningful relationship with their children, they must first legally establish paternity.

What Rights do Fathers Have?

You might think that going through the process to establish paternity is unnecessary red tape, especially if you communicate well enough with your child’s mother that there have never been any major disagreements about the child. You might have an unwritten agreement where you take care of the child at certain times and provide some financial support to the child. Without legally establishing paternity, though, anything can change. What if a new partner enters the picture? What if one of you decides to move out of state? Continue reading

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No matter your profession, you have probably seen articles circulating online or on email lists about industry-specific words to expunge from your vocabulary. Most of these articles flag certain words for deletion because they are clichés or neologisms. The first time you clicked on a clickbait article telling you to avoid saying “think outside the box” or “circle back” was probably years ago, when the term “clickbait” was known only to professional writers. The family law terms you should remove from your vocabulary, however, are actually misleading. They refer to outdated concepts in family law and therefore are unhelpful in thinking about your divorce and parenting plan.

Custody

People tend to speak of one parent having custody of the children after a divorce, while the other parent has visitation. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was more common than it is now for children to spend most of their time with one parent and to spend only two weekends a month with the other parent. Now, when possible, courts often rule to have children spend at least two nights per week with each parent. Exceptions are when the parents live so far away from each other that it is not practical to transport the children back and forth each week.

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You have probably heard about divorced couples engaging in bitter legal battles over which one of them will have custody of the couple’s children. You might also know someone who stays in an unhappy marriage because he or she fears that, upon divorce, he or she will be ordered to pay hefty child support payments and have the court meddle in his or her finances for years, while being forced to give up the rights to make decisions about his or her children’s upbringing. In reality, child custody is rarely an all or nothing situation. Likewise, Florida courts do not impose child support obligations as a way to punish parents. In making decisions about custody and child support, judges are to consider the children’s best interest above all else and to determine how to promote the children’s interests in a way that is feasible for both parents.

There is No One Size Fits All Parenting Plan

It is rare in Florida that judges award sole custody of the children to only one parent.  Besides, the word “custody” has more than one meaning in Florida law.  Physical custody refers to where and with whom the children reside most of the time, whereas legal custody refers to who has the authority to make important decisions about the children. Legal custody includes the right to choose which school the children attend, which medical treatments they receive, and which religious activities they participate in, among other important decisions. It is technically possible for one parent to have more time with the children while the other has the last word about their education and extracurricular activities. Continue reading

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In Florida, children rarely testify in court. Even when the children are old enough to provide useful testimony, judges always avoid having minors testify in family law cases unless there is no other alternative. Divorce and custody battles are stressful enough for children and teenagers, and being questioned in a courtroom could cause them unnecessary additional stress. Therefore, courts often appoint a guardian ad litem to speak on behalf of the child.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem is a person appointed to provide information about the child and his or her situation in order to help the judge make a decision about the child’s best interest. The guardian ad litem does not have custody of the child even temporarily; the child’s legal guardians remain the biological, adoptive, or foster parents. The guardian ad litem’s legal responsibility to the child is only to represent the child’s best interests before the judge.

In Florida, guardians ad litem are volunteers, and each guardian ad litem is assigned to only one child or family at a time. They come from all different professional and educational backgrounds. Regardless of previous work experience, they must take a training course to become qualified to work as guardians ad litem. Many of them have worked with children in their professional lives and have a keen sense of what constitutes a child’s best interest; many guardians ad litem are social workers, teachers, and healthcare workers. Continue reading

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Relocating from Florida with minor children can often times present a challenging situation.  The Court must engage in a balancing test between the rights of the parent wishing to relocate against the rights of the stay behind parent. Ultimately, the judge must decide the issue based on the best interests of the minor children.

The judge’s discretion however, is not unlimited or unchecked.  The trial judge is bound to follow the mandates of the Florida relocation statute, found in Florida Statue 61.13001.

The relocation statute includes a list of ten (10) factors that the judge hearing the case is required to consider. No one factor is more important than any other.  The judge will hear evidence on all of the various factors, and do what is best for the children.

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The current law in Florida provides that a parent cannot relocate or change the location of their principal residence if that change of residence will be more than 50 miles from their current residence.  If a spouse is considering a move that is more than 50 miles away, they must obtain either the written consent of the other spouse, or seek approval from the court.  The relocation provisions of Florida law are found in Florida Statute 61.13001.

In the absence of a statutory or contractual provision to the contrary, the proper method to measure the distance between 2 points is the straight line or quote as the crow flies” measure. If the distance using the straight-line test measurement is less than 50 miles, a move can be made by one parent without consent from the other parent or approval from the court. This would be true even if the move is 49 miles away.

However, simply because a move is less than 50 miles away, does not mean that other aspects of a parenting plan would be effected.  A move 49 miles away would most definitely effect the school boundaries, and therefore the school that the minor child would attend.  Does this mean that the moving or relocating parent has a right to change schools without obtaining the other parent’s consent?

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It is understandable that some spouses who are divorcing are not necessarily in the mindset to cooperate with one another. After all, fighting and disagreements have likely played a role in the decision to end their marriage. However, refusal to come to an agreement regarding one or more issues in a divorce can cause serious delays and can increase the cost of a divorce.

Before a court will grant your divorce, you and your spouse must settle numerous issues including:

  • Property and debt division;
  • Child support;
  • Time-sharing and visitation;
  • Parenting plans;
  • Alimony.

If any one of those issues cannot be settled out of court, the divorce can be delayed as the court will have to decide for you. You and your spouse will have to present evidence to support your arguments for how you want to resolve the issue at trial and the judge will rule on the matter.

A recent divorce case demonstrates just how much a divorce case can be affected by adversarial disputes instead of cooperation. After 25 years of marriage, the wife of the founder of Cancer Treatment Centers for America filed for divorce. The filing occurred in 2009 and the case is still dragging on due to several disagreements regarding a prenuptial agreement, custody, and division of their millions of dollars in assets. The case has involved numerous hearings, appellate hearings, changes of lawyers, contempt orders, and other complications, and is now finally going to trial over asset and property division. In the meantime, both spouses have likely spent an enormous amount of money, stress, and time dealing with the divorce proceedings and have been unable to remarry since their marriage is not yet dissolved after more than six years. Continue reading

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A major issue between parents who split up is who will get custody of their child. In many cases, if you do not particularly like the other parent or believe he or she may be irresponsible in some way, you may want to obtain sole custody rights. However, getting sole custody in Florida is extremely difficult.

In order to understand why this is the case, you should have a basic understanding of custody laws in Florida. First, there are two different aspects to child custody:

  • Physical custody: the time you spend with your child visiting you or living with you; and
  • Legal custody: the right to be a part of major decisions in the child’s life, including schooling, activities, religion, and medical care.

In Florida, physical custody is called “parenting time” and legal custody is often referred to as “parental responsibility.” How these rights are divided between parents is set out in a parenting plan that must be approved by the courts. Continue reading

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Facing a court case involving your children can be emotional and stressful. The following are only some of the questions that are frequently asked of child custody attorneys regarding this type of case in Florida.

Can I get sole custody of my children?

It is important to note that instead of the terms “joint custody” or “sole custody,” Florida law refers to “equal time-sharing” or “majority time-sharing.” While the law favors time-sharing with both parents, it is possible in some situations to have your children with you the majority of the time. However, courts will generally allow at least some visitation with the other parent except in exceptional circumstances. So, unless the other parent does not want to see your children, you will have to share some time with your children.

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When a court issues an order for visitation and timesharing of children, it is common for one or both parents to be dissatisfied with some aspect of the parenting time arrangement. Even if you both agree to the arrangement at the time of the custody case, circumstances may change and may lead to conflicts regarding the custody and visitation schedule. In such cases, you may be able to request that the agreement be modified to better suit changed circumstances. This process can take time, however, and many parents may be tempted to take the matter into their own hands. Doing so can have serious consequences from the court, however, including fines or even jail time.

The following are some examples of actions you should never take on your own regarding child custody:

  • Withholding visitation or custody rights if the other parent fails to pay child support.