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Basics of child custody in Florida

If you face divorce when your children are still young, one of the first things you will wonder about is how custody works. Getting some basic facts can provide a framework for figuring out what you need to discuss when consulting your attorney.

Today, Florida law discusses time-sharing rather than custody and visitation. While, in practice, this distinction in terms does not change that much about the practical arrangements most people make, it represents a shift away from thinking of one parent as the primary or real parent and the other as the one that enjoys visits.

How courts figure out time-sharing schedules

Parents may share time equally or allot more time to one parent. Courts make this decision based on several factors the law deems relevant to determining which arrangement would serve the child's best interests. In addition to statutory factors, judges can also use their knowledge and experience to assess a particular situation. The law allows judges to consider the child's own preferences if the judge considers the child to have the capacity to contribute an informed opinion.

Agreements

In Florida, time-sharing arrangements are set out in the parenting plan, which forms part of the final judgment. Parents can choose to agree on the terms and draw up the plan as part of a separation or divorce agreement. Some parents can also come up with agreement on a plan in the course of mediation. When parents cannot agree, judges may hear both sides and make their own determination. Even when an agreement exists, the judge will review it and may order changes if he or she deems necessary.

Time-sharing and child support

Courts generally take into account the relative amount of time-sharing each parent does, along with other important factors, when determining child support amounts. However, if one parent violates the support provisions, the other does not gain the right to withhold that parent's time with the child. Conversely, a parent may not refuse to pay support on the basis of the other parent's failure to comply with the court-ordered time-sharing schedule.

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