Parents contemplating divorce often have a much more difficult time deciding whether to end the marriage. Divorce greatly affects children, and is known to leave a negative stamp on a child’s development. Certainly, couples in unhealthy relationships should part because staying together is also damaging to a child, but divorces involving children are naturally more complicated. Figuring out how to divide childcare and decision-making responsibilities frequently leads to conflict as each parent fights to ensure they maintain a strong presence in their child’s life. Parents ideally negotiate their own child custody arrangement, often with the assistance of a divorce attorney, but in high-conflict divorces, the court is typically tasked with making this decision. Giving this much power to the judge may seem frightening. A group of women in Palm Beach County founded an organization in 2003, Families Against Court Travesties (FACTS), dedicated to scrutinizing the family court system after encountering judges who seemed to favor one party in high-conflict child custody cases. Understanding the guidelines judges must follow in child custody decisions will help divorcing parents move through the process with less stress and anxiety.
Florida law requires all divorce cases involving minor children to include a parenting plan, which governs how the parents will split responsibilities for the children going forward. Many divorcing couples formulate their own parenting plans since they can cater to the unique needs of their families, but the court must still approve the terms. All parenting plans must do all of the following:
- describe with sufficient detail how the parents plan to share the daily tasks of raising a child;
- specify how much time the child will spend with each parent;
- indicate who will be responsible for decisions related to health care, education, and other activities; and
- describe how the parents plan to communicate with the child.
If the judge must create the parenting plan, the court starts from the premise that both parents will share responsibility, and will only deviate from this standard if following it would be detrimental to the child. Evidence of domestic violence or convictions for other violent offenses are examples of issues that would be detrimental to the child, and cause a judge to consider awarding all parenting responsibilities to one party. The court will give considerable weight to the wishes of the parties, but the one principle that drives all child custody decisions is the best interests of the child.
Best Interests of the Child
In order to ascertain what is in the best interests of the child, the court takes into account a number of factors. These factors help the court to evaluate the needs and circumstances of a particular child and family. Some of these factors are:
- the ability of each parent to support a close relationship between the child and the other parent;
- how often a parent would delegate parental responsibilities to a third party;
- the ability of each parent to put the needs of the child first;
- the geographic viability of the parenting plan, especially for school-age children;
- the mental and physical health of the parents;
- the ability of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child;
- the ability of the parents to communicate with each other on child-related issues and adopt a united front on important issues; and
- the ability of each parent to meet the child’s needs.
Consult a Florida Family Law Attorney
If you are getting divorced or have questions about child custody issues, it is best to speak with an experienced family law attorney to ensure you receive accurate information on such an important matter. The Tampa Bay law firm, All Family Group, P.A., will conduct a thorough analysis to determine what the best arrangement is for you and your family. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+