The Orlando Family Firm lawyers understand the importance of child custody cases. The Orlando Family Firm is a full-service family law firm. We have significant mediation and trial experience in handling divorce and child custody cases around Central Florida.
The proceedings surrounding the dissolution of a marriage can sometimes become an involved and drawn out process. Questions concerning the division of assets, alimony, and distribution of retirement plans are just some of the challenging issues of a divorce. When child custody is concerned, a whole new level of post-marital concerns presents itself.
Changes in Chapter 61
Families used to be faced with terms such as “visitation plan,” “primary residential parent,” and “secondary residential parent.” Under the new version of Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes, effective October 1st, 2008, different language and procedures have been employed to level the emphasis each parent has in raising the children. The hope is that these changes will promote a smoother more effective child-rearing transition after the divorce is final. As detailed in the revised statute, terms such as “time-sharing” and “parenting plan” are now the emphasis. Rather than “primary” and “secondary residential parent,” both parents - mother and father - are now referred to simply as parent.
The factors for determining the best interest of the child are as follows:
(a) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.
(b) The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.
(c) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.
(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
(e) The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.
(f) The moral fitness of the parents.
(g) The mental and physical health of the parents.
(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.
(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
(j) The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things.
(k) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.
(l) The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child.
(m) Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child.
(n) Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.
(o) The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.
(p) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.
(q) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.
(r) The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.
(s) The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.
(t) Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.
Furthermore, under Florida Statutes Chapter 61, Florida law now requires court approved Parenting Plans regarding how the children will be raised. Parenting Plans are required to include detailed time-sharing schedules for all divorcing couples with children.
Time-sharing schedules are in place to determine, in writing, what amount of time the child will spend with each parent. Issues taken into consideration include: pick-up and drop-off routines for transition times, any schedule changes surrounding holidays and special occasions, and which parent’s address will be used concerning school zoning. Many counties offer a time-sharing model for parents to consider or at least use as a guideline for how their specific table will operate.
Equalizing the Process
Above all, Chapter 61 aims at equalizing and, perhaps sensitizing the way the legal system handles custody issues within a divorce. Changing the language and requiring further, more detailed planning regarding how children will be affected (at least in a scheduling sense) hopefully leads to a smoother transition for all parties and a more effective agreement to live by during the time after courts and lawyers are involved.
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Child Custody
1. Are child custody decisions gender biased?
No. The current law under Section 61.13 of the Florida Statutes is specifically designed to be gender neutral. The Court's task is to analyze the factors under Section 61.13 and make a determination of what is in the best interest of your child or children. These factors have nothing to do with gender and although there was once a presumption in favor of females called the "tender years doctrine", this has been eliminated under current law. The Florida Legislature has been very careful to craft a statutory framework that does not favor one gender over another.
2. Does the new law regarding child custody create a presumption that 50/50 contact is in the best interest of the child?
No. This is a common misconception under the new statute. Due to the elimination of the words "primary" and "secondary", many people viewed the new statute as mandating that parents share equal time with their children. Although this may be the result that the Court ultimately reaches in your case, it will not be a result of a presumption of 50/50 under the statute. Given the relative newness of the statute, there is very little case law interpreting it, however a new decision issued by the 4th District Court of Appeals in Hahn v. Hahn, makes it very clear that the statute does not create a presumption of 50/50. The relevant text is quoted as follows: "...the court was incorrect to conclude that the amendments created a presumption of 50/50 time-sharing. Based on a strict interpretation of section 61.13, as amended, the trial court must still “determine all matters relating to parenting and timesharing of each minor child of the parties in accordance with the best interests of the child[.]” § 61.13(2)(c)1., Fla. Stat. (2008)." The full text of the Hahn decision can be found here. As one can clearly see, the best interest of the child is the ultimate task of the Court.
The Orlando Family Firm, located conveniently in downtown Orlando is a full-service family law firm dedicated to providing compassionate and aggressive representation for our clients. As Orlando Child Custody lawyers we are focused on representing you and getting your legal matters resolved as quickly and proactively as possible. Our firm typically handles family law cases throughout Central Florida in Orange County, Osceola County and Seminole County. We have significant trial experience in handling child custody cases. We believe that communication with our clients is of utmost importance so that our clients know exactly what is going on in their case and to help take the mystery out of the legal process. Going through a child custody or other family law proceeding is a trying time for our clients and we provide the peace of mind to help our clients resolve and move past their family legal issues. Contact The Orlando Family Firm today for a free consultation to help you understand more in-depth how Child Custody cases work throughout Florida.
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