Child custody, or what is now statutorily referred to as “time-sharing,” is the amount of time a parent shares with their child(ren), generally measured in overnights. It can be called visitation or custody, but in Florida the proper terminology is time-sharing, and it should be reflected in a written parenting plan that includes a time-sharing schedule.
In a Florida divorce or child custody case, the judge must consider the child(ren)’s best interests when deciding how time-sharing will be allocated amongst the parents. See Florida Statute 61.13 (2020). Florida custody law does not give any preference to mothers or fathers when determining child custody matters. In other words, there is currently no presumption in favor of either the mother or father. Each case must be decided based upon the circumstances of each unique family after consideration of the best-interest factors set forth in s. 61.13, Florida Statutes.
A child’s best interests must be the primary consideration to any child custody decision in Florida. Judges expect parents to put the needs of their children first, before their own. A court will consider the extent to which each parent has demonstrated an ability and desire to meet a child’s developmental needs and be involved in the child’s life. Specifically, the following factors are relevant to a child’s best interests in Florida:
- each parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs
- each parent’s physical and mental health
- each parent’s moral fitness
- each parent’s ability to provide the child with a consistent routine
- geographic viability of the parenting plan, specifically the amount of travel it would take to honor the time-sharing schedule
- child’s adjustment to home and community
- reasonable preference of the child if of sufficient age and understanding
- evidence of domestic violence, if any
- each parent’s ability to provide a safe and stable environment for the child
- the child’s developmental age, needs, and abilities, and
- any other relevant factor.
If a child’s safety is at issue, a judge may order supervised time-sharing or suspend contact and time-sharing provided that the steps are put into place for reuniting the offending parent and the child(ren). A safety-focused parenting plan may be established if necessary for the child(ren)’s safety.
Florida’s custody laws require a judge to assess each parent’s moral fitness when determining a child’s best interests. “Moral fitness” generally refers to circumstances that might affect a child’s moral and ethical development—for example, substance abuse, frequent casual relationships with multiple partners, verbal abuse, violence, or illegal behavior.
Whether or not a court might consider an adulterous parent’s behavior during the marriage would depend upon whether such behavior had a significant negative impact upon the child. A parent’s time-sharing may be impacted if he or she provides false evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect against the other parent in a custody case.
Parents are expected to protect a child from the stress of divorce, including refraining from making disparaging comments about the other parent in front of the child.
Once a parenting plan or time-sharing schedule is established, the schedule may be changed or modified only if there is showing of a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances that the requested modification is in the best interests of the child(ren).