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Understanding Child Custody in Florida: Legal Vs. Physical

Although Florida uses the term "parental responsibility" in place of "custody" when determining how much time a parent spends housing or visiting a child, it's important to differentiate between legal and physical custody.

Legal custody governs a parent's rights to make decisions for their child, such as where they go to school, what extracurricular activities they participate in, what kind of medical care they receive, and more.

Physical custody governs a parent's rights to house their child.

Joint Custody: Navigating Shared Parental Responsibility in Florida

Under Florida state law, there is no such term as joint custody. Both parents have "time sharing" with their children, as ordered by the court based on the best interests of the child. When both parents share legal and physical custody of the child, it is called "shared parental responsibility." To protect your rights to spend time with your children and make important decisions affecting their lives, you need the representation of an experienced Jacksonville child custody attorney.

In a shared parental responsibility situation, both parents must agree on all major decisions affecting the child's welfare. When one parent has primary physical custody, they must create a sense of normality for the child, including establishing:

  • A primary residence
  • A school
  • A physician

The other parent may be granted generous visitation time to remain part of the child's life. The courts prefer a time-sharing arrangement that allows both parents to have ample time with the child. Child support is still calculated using state guidelines in an equal time sharing arrangement. The amount of support depends on:

  • Income of both parents
  • Costs of daycare
  • Health insurance
  • Uncovered medical expenses
  • Percentage of time sharing awarded to each parent

Generally, the amount of child support will decrease in proportion to the amount of time sharing enjoyed by the paying parent.

When Sole Parental Responsibility Is Granted in Florida

Most courts default to shared parental responsibility under the assumption that it's better for children to spend time living with or visiting both parents.

However, in some custody cases, the court may determine that a parent is "unfit." In such cases, the court may award the other parent sole parental responsibility, which could result in one parent having total legal and physical custody of a child.

Some reasons the court may determine a parent "unfit" include:

  • A history of domestic violence or neglect, particularly if directed at the child;
  • A history of substance use;
  • A parent is incarcerated;
  • The child is old enough to have input on the case and requests sole parental responsibility for one parent.

It's worth noting that parents may also voluntarily decide to award one parent with sole parental responsibility. This often happens in situations where one parent wishes to move away from the child's location post-divorce and sharing custody across state or country borders would be too difficult, or the parents simply can't find an effective way to share custody and determine that sole responsibility for one parent would help the child succeed.

Even if one parent has sole parental responsibility, the other may still have visitation rights, meaning they can still see their child. The details of the visitation rights vary on a case-by-case basis - some parents may need third-party supervision, while others may be free to visit their child as they see fit.

In any child custody case, the parents don't necessarily need to rely on the court to determine whether they should have shared or sole parental responsibility. If the parents agree on how to share responsibility, they can instead draft an agreement stating the terms of their preferred custody arrangement. If a court approves the terms of the agreement, it can incorporate them into the court order that finalizes the case.

Designing a Custody Timeshare That Works for Your Family

In many custody cases, the parents work together to establish a timeshare arrangement that works for both parties. Some common timeshares you may want to consider include:

  • A 2-5, 5-2 time-share. In this schedule, one parent gets custody of their child for two days (typically the weekend), while the other gets custody for five. Then, the parties switch. This is an effective way for parents to share every other workweek and weekend with their child, giving both the opportunity to help their child with homework and spend time with them on free days.
  • A 3-4, 4-3 timeshare. This is the same type of schedule as a 2-5, 5-2 timeshare, but the distribution of days is different, which can help parents feel that they're spending time with their child more "equally."
  • A week-on, week-off timeshare. In this schedule, the parents simply alternate parental responsibility every week.

You should spend time consulting your co-parent (if you can) and your attorney to understand what an equitable arrangement would look like for you. You and your co-parent's work schedules could have a dramatic impact on how you want to share custody and could influence other aspects of your custody arrangement, such as whether you need to pay for childcare when you can't be home with your child.

In addition to thinking about the general timeshare arrangement you want, you should also focus on how you'll share holidays with your co-parent.

For example, you may decide that you want to either spend half of Christmas Day with your child, or spend Christmas Day with your child while your co-parent gets Christmas Eve, or spend the holidays together as a single unit.

Thinking about your timeshare in advance and ensuring that it suits you, your co-parent's, and your child's needs is vital. The better tailored to your circumstances your custody arrangement is, the easier it will be to have a positive co-parenting relationship and ensure that your child thrives.

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Child Custody Attorneys Protecting Your Child's Best Interests. Pick Porter!™

Child custody issues can arise in situations other than divorce. When the other parent is incapable of providing a safe home for your children, it may be necessary to petition the court for custody. An unwed father may wish to petition the court for visitation rights, joint custody, or even sole custody if the mother is an unfit parent.

If you are seeking custody to protect your child from domestic violence or child abuse, do not hesitate to contact our firm and get the help of a knowledgeable child custody lawyer in Jacksonville, FL.

Under state law, the welfare and support of the child is the responsibility of both parents. The courts encourage parenting plans that provide both parents with the greatest possible access to the children. In ruling on custody matters, the primary emphasis of the court is always the best interests of the child.

Whether you are married or unmarried, facing divorce or seeking parental rights, our Jacksonville child custody attorney can fight for your right to custody.

Contact our firm for outstanding representation in child custody cases. We offer one-hour case consultations.

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