Florida Parental Responsibility and Time-Sharing Overview

Florida has replaced the term custody with parental responsibility to describe a parent's right and responsibility to make decisions about their children's health, education and well-being.

Physical custody or visitation — whom the children live and spend time with — are now referred to as time-sharing or parenting time.

Read on for an overview of parental responsibility and time-sharing in Florida, keeping in mind that some practices vary by county.

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How parental responsibility and time-sharing are decided

Family courts handle parental responsibility and time-sharing cases.

If parents reach an agreement, they can submit a settlement to the court for approval. Experts strongly encourage parents to settle in order to save money and have a say in their case's outcome. Many parents use mediation or collaborative law to help them develop an agreement.

When parents can't reach a settlement, the case goes to trial for a judge or general magistrate to decide an arrangement that parents are legally required to follow.

Children's best interests

When reviewing settlements and presiding over trials, judges and magistrates make decisions based on the best interests of the children in the case. They consider each parent's:

  • Ability to create a stable home, provide necessities and meet the children's needs
  • Relationship with the children
  • Willingness to allow the children contact with the other parent
  • Physical and mental health
  • Commitment to not involving the children in legal proceedings
  • History of child abuse, domestic violence or substance abuse

If children have sufficient maturity, emotional intelligence and awareness of the situation, the judge or magistrate may take their preferences into account.

Types of parental responsibility

The details of your parental responsibility arrangement are explained in your parenting plan.

Shared parental responsibility

What was formerly called joint legal custody is now called shared parental responsibility in Florida.

Florida law assumes parents will have shared responsibility, unless the parents decide against it in a settlement or a judge rules it wouldn't be in the children's best interests after a trial.

There are many ways to divide shared parental responsibility.

When feasible, courts prefer arrangements that give parents equal decision-making powers. Each parent might be granted final say in certain categories. Parents might have to make decisions together on some issues. Or they may be able to act independently at times.

In some cases, one parent receives more decision-making power. For example, he or she might be designated the tie-breaker for disagreements, or the other parent may not get a say in certain matters.

Sole parental responsibility

Florida has replaced the term sole legal custody with sole parental responsibility.

Sole parental responsibility gives one parent all decision-making powers. It's awarded only if parents agree to it in a settlement, or if children are at risk due to a parent's history of abuse, substance use or criminal activity.

The parent who does not receive responsibility typically still receives parenting time, though it may need to be supervised or otherwise restricted. Their child support obligation also remains.

Termination of parental rights

In cases involving severe child abuse, neglect or abandonment, Florida's dependency court, rather than family court, makes custody decisions. The dependency court has the power to terminate parental rights. These cases typically involve the Department of Children and Families and other law enforcement agencies.

Types of time-sharing

Regardless of which form of time-sharing you have, your time-sharing schedule explains the day-to-day details of your arrangement.

Shared parenting time

Florida courts want children to have relationships with both parents. This means parents receive shared parenting time (formerly called joint physical custody), except in highly unusual cases.

Two types of shared parenting time exist:

  • Equal time-sharing: Each parent has roughly 50 percent of time with the children.
  • Majority/minority time-sharing: One parent has more time than the other. Any division is possible — 80/20, 65/35, etc.

A parent's time-sharing can be restricted when special circumstances like abuse or criminal activity come into play. For example, the parent may be limited to daytime visits or to visits in public settings.

Sole parenting time

Though very rare, parents can agree to give one sole parenting time (formerly called sole physical custody). This does not free the other parent from their child support obligation.

Length of proceedings

How long it takes to resolve a case depends on your county and your situation.

Settling is the quickest way to resolve a case. After parents come to an agreement, the case typically closes within a few months.

Going to trial is a longer, more complicated process. It involves additional steps, such as depositions and hearings. Your case will likely last more than a year, although the trial itself may only take a day.

The court may expedite a case when a child's safety is at risk or when a parent wants to relocate.

Costs to expect

The costs to expect also vary. Settling as soon as possible is the least expensive route.

Lawyer fees are generally the most significant cost, and they vary widely. In a trial, parents typically pay at least $10,000 each to attorneys. More complex trials can cost each parent $100,000 or more. In some cases, the judge may order one parent to cover some or all of the other parent's legal fees.

Many attorneys offer a set a price to handle straightforward settlements, typically $2,500 to $5,000. Some legal professionals offer sliding fees based on income.

Whenever the court orders mediation, a social investigation or parenting coordination, the judge decides how parents share the expenses.

Whenever you submit paperwork, you'll have to pay filing fees. Expect to pay somewhere around $500 total.

Parents with low incomes can apply to have court fees waived, reduced or spaced out and may be able to use legal aid services.

Unmarried parents

When parents aren't married to each other, they must confirm paternity as part of the court process.

Having the father's name on the child's birth certificate does not prove his paternity, nor is it required before either parent can open a case to request responsibility, parenting time or child support.

Representing yourself

Many parents represent themselves in court (called pro se representation). But, due to the intricacy of laws and court procedures, parents should only do so in the most straightforward cases.

If you're going pro se, read the statutes and rules relevant to your case and court, and have a legal professional review your paperwork.

The Florida family court self-help website offers a number of resources for pro se litigants. In addition, legal aid services provide help for parents who can't afford a lawyer.

More information

For more details on parental responsibility, time-sharing and child support laws, see Chapter 61 of the Florida statutes.

You can also review common misconceptions in Florida family law and other resources for parents.

Staying organized

The process of deciding parental responsibility requires serious organization. You may need to create a parenting plan, draft multiple time-sharing schedules, track your time with your child, calculate expenses and beyond.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of that in one place with a variety of tools you can use in Florida.

With a parenting plan template, time-sharing calendars, an expense tracker and more, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to parental responsibility.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and custody schedules.

Make My Florida Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and custody schedules.

Make My Plan