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West Palm Beach Divorce Attorney > Blog > Child Custody > How Courts Decide Child Custody in Florida

How Courts Decide Child Custody in Florida


You can come to the table ready to decide every aspect of your divorce, but child custody and arrangements are the one thing that the court must approve regardless of yours or your spouse’s wishes. However, in 2008, the Florida legislature passed sweeping regulations that broadened child custody considerations and changed some of the terminology. For instance, the word “custody” was completely done away with. It was replaced by terms like “shared parental responsibility”, “sole parental responsibility”, and “majority” or “equal” time-sharing. Of course, “shared parental responsibility” simply translates to joint custody while “sole parental responsibility” translates to sole custody.

Nonetheless, how courts make decisions on issues related to parental responsibility/custody remained more or less the same. The determination of “time-sharing” defines where the child lives and when.

Shared Parental Responsibility Remains the Default 

The courts will always assume that it’s in the child’s best interests to have both parents remain a part of their lives. Taking that further, the courts assume that both parents should share the responsibility of raising the children together. Custody and responsibility do not necessarily translate to “possession” of the child or children. That is one of the reasons why the terminology was changed. What custody means is that a parent has parental rights to a child and that they are authorized to make decisions on their behalf. These decisions can include health care decisions, decisions related to their education, religious rearing, and more. In other words, joint custody is when both parents have parental rights over the children.

In order for the court to decide to give one parent sole custody, or sole parental responsibility, they must find some compelling reason to deny one parent rights over the child. Traditionally, abuse in the home is a compelling reason as in mental or emotional instability, drug abuse, alcoholism, or anything that would cause the court to believe one parent is unfit.

This is completely separate from the concept of time-sharing or, as it used to be known, visitation. A parent who does not have parental rights or the right to make decisions for the child can nonetheless still spend time with the child. In some cases, this visitation is supervised by a court official while in other situations, the parent will have a right to spend time with the children alone.

Key Considerations 

While abuse in the home or substance dependency may be red flag issues, there are other more subtle factors that determine time-sharing and decision making power over the child. While once it was assumed that children should always live with their mothers, the courts routinely break with that tradition and award fathers residential custody. The child’s own wishes may be taken into consideration provided the court deems them old enough and capable of making that decision. The health of both parents must be taken into consideration.

Courts also assume that elements like continuity in the child’s life should be weighed when making a decision about where the child should live and with whom. If you have any concerns about how the courts will decide child custody in your case, contact the West Palm Beach child custody attorneys at Bruce S. Rosenwater today. We’ll be happy to discuss the issue with you.


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