When a couple has a baby, they share custody of the child while they are still together. However, if they decide to separate, the courts may need to step in to help determine how much time each parent will have with the child and where the child will live. The state of Florida usually prefers to keep children in contact with both parents whenever possible, although one parent is usually given the responsibility of keeping a primary resident for the child. The process can be simple, but if the breakup between the parents was difficult or tense, determining custody may become more stressful.
Parental Rights and Parental Duties
Every parent has the legal duty to support and care for their children. They also have some rights unless those rights have been taken away by the courts for various reasons. Those rights include:
- The right to be included in decision making about the child’s residence, health, education, religion, and discipline
- The right to be involved in making decisions about legal matters impacting the child
- The right to be present with the child if the police need to question them
- The right to provide consent for their child to enlist in the military or get married (or to deny such requests)
- Provide consent for their child to undergo an abortion
- The right to visitation with the child if not the custodial parent
When the court is making decisions about custody, neither parent’s rights will be weighed more heavily than the other. However, there are many factors the court has to consider when making decisions about custody, especially when it comes to deciding where the child’s primary residence will be.
In addition to these rights, parents also have inherent responsibilities. These responsibilities are designed to ensure their children are protected and cared for. In order to care for and protect their children, parents have to provide them with:
- Sufficient clothing for each season
- Healthy and nutritional meals
- Education (ensuring the children get to school)
- Dental care
- Vision care
Both parents are usually involved in providing these necessities to their children, even if one parent is more financially capable of doing so.
When a couple comes before the court to have a custody plan created, the courts want them to try to work their differences out amicably. However, custody is a difficult subject, especially among couples who fought a lot during their separation. In these cases, the court will step in and determine a custody plan using the evidence presented to them as well as their best judgment.
Custody is broken down into two types: legal custody and physical custody. Courts prefer to provide parents with a joint legal custody plan, which gives both parents the opportunity to be involved in their child’s education, health, activities, and more. The issue that often caused the most conflict is physical custody. Although the court wants to keep it as equal as possible, they have to consider what is in the best interest of the child when deciding where that child’s primary residence should be. Some elements the court will consider when making that decision include:
- Whether the parent participates in the child’s community, education, and social activities. This includes checking whether the parent is present for the child’s extracurricular activities and whether the parent knows who their child is friends with.
- Whether each parent is mentally and physically healthy enough to adequately care for the child. For example, if the courts determine that one parent uses drugs and the other does not, the parent that uses drugs is unlikely to become the custodial parent of their child.
- Whether the parent can create a healthy routine for their child, such as completing their homework at a reasonable time, eating three meals a day, and going to bed at a consistent time.
- The area in which each parent lives and which area provides more opportunity for the child
- Whether the child will have to travel a long distance to see the noncustodial parent
- Whether either parent has been difficult to work with during the custody process or has failed to communicate with the other parent regarding the child’s needs
- Whether either parent made false claims about the other parent for abusive behavior or neglect
- Whether the child is old enough and mature enough to provide their input about where they would prefer to spend the majority of their time
Essentially, the court wants to ensure they are placing the child with the parent that can provide them the most consistent and fulfilling life possible. However, the court also wants the child to have access to both of their parents, which is why they will order joint custody or visitation.
How Is Visitation Determined?
Many conflicts during the custody process arise when visitation is being determined. This is often because one parent feels like they deserve more time with their child than they are being given. The court prefers to make visitation as equal as possible, but there are situations in which that is not the best choice for the child in question. Factors the court will consider when determining visitation include:
- Are the parents capable of communicating openly and honestly regarding the welfare of their child
- Does either parent say bad things about the other parent in front of their child
- Is either parent trying to interfere with their child’s relationship with their other parent
- Which parent is in a more favorable financial situation
- Which parent has a safer household
- The quality of the relationships between the child and each parent
The court will always put the needs of the child at the top of their priority list when making such important decisions. If either parent shows they are willing to do the same, they may end up with more visitation time with their child.
Creating a Parenting Plan
Some particularly contentious custody battles will result in court-mandated parenting plans. These are legally binding documents that provide the parents with an outline of how their child will be cared for once the custody arrangement is in place. Some of the elements of a normal parenting plan are:
- How the various parental responsibilities, such as providing education, activities, and meals, will be split between the parents
- Details of the visitation schedule such as when the child will be dropped off and picked up, which parent gets which holidays, where the child will be during breaks from school, etc.
- Which parent will include the child on their health insurance plan
- How each parent will communicate with the child when not in their care, such as through text messages, social media, etc.
Generally, the parent who is granted less time with the child is the one responsible for making child support payments. They are considered the noncustodial parent. Since the child does not maintain a permanent residence with them, it is presumed that their expenses for the child will be lower. Therefore, they will have to pay the custodial parent a certain amount of money each month to keep up with the child’s expenses.
Child support payments are determined by taking the amount of money the parents would spend on the child if they were still together, dividing that among between the parents based on their income, and then allowing for certain deductions. Child support payments are mandatory, and any parent who misses payments may face consequences.
We Will Fight for You
If you are involved in a difficult custody battle and need legal counsel, contact the Law Office of Russel S. Hershkowitz, L.L.C. today. We understand that these legal battles are difficult and emotionally draining. That’s why we will review the case in its entirety and come up with strong evidence to present to the court to ensure you receive a fair amount of time with your child. Contact us today at (407) 753-4111 or through our online form to schedule a consultation.