First, while we use the term “custody” because that is how people generally recognize the term, Florida uses the term “time-sharing” and the concepts of custody and visitation are no longer a part of Florida law in the Family Law/Domestic Relations courts. Because most citizens recognize the term “custody” still, we use the term in this article. However, the first sign of a good Family Law Attorney is one who quickly tells you that custody is no longer a legal term in Florida in dissolution and paternity actions.
A custody order (parenting plan) establishes both the parental responsibility and parenting time arrangement for the children. When an unmarried mother has a child, the mother has legal custody of that child until a court says otherwise. The father must take affirmative steps to establish his legal paternal rights.
During divorce or paternity, the issue of child custody often becomes a matter for the court to determine. The Court must consider the best interest of the children in every original child custody matter. The court retains the power to alter the custody arrangements when there is a substantial change of circumstances until the child turns 18 or is emancipated.
The Florida Supreme Court has expressed a public policy that parents are encouraged to create their own custody (time-sharing) parenting plans rather than have a Court make the final determination. A study found that only when parents were still actively fighting did joint custody exacerbate children’s feelings of being torn between parents. However, when both parents favor cooperative time-sharing, it can be a good solution for the children. Some parents have chosen a joint-custody (equal time-sharing) arrangement in which the child spends an approximately equal amount of time with both parents.
Because of the complexity of child custody (time-sharing) matters and the importance of the outcome, it is highly advisable to contact an attorney. The attorney should know several child custody evaluators or guardian ad litems that they have worked with successfully. If you proceed with a child custody action without an attorney, you are acting as your own attorney.
In a child custody dispute, there are rarely winners, frequently everyone is a loser, and the biggest losers are often the children. Having an attorney that can help you protect your children’s interest while still steer you in the direction of what is in the best interest of the children will be priceless.