Filing for Parental Responsibility in Florida: 4 Steps

Since child custody is no longer a term the Florida government uses, parents here technically don't file for custody. Instead, they request orders for a parenting plan, time-sharing schedule and child support by filing a case in family court. This initiates the litigation process.

If you hire a lawyer, they'll prepare and file the forms for you. If you're representing yourself, follow the steps below.

If you and the other parent agree on all issues, submit your settlement agreement in Step 2 along with your other forms.

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Step 1: Complete your family court forms

The forms listed below are all available from the Florida Courts database of family law forms. They're for any county, but ask your county clerk's office if it prefers certain versions or requires additional forms.

All forms should be typed or printed in black ink, and many require you to sign in front of a court clerk or a notary public.

All parental responsibility and time-sharing cases need a Cover Sheet, a Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act Affidavit, and a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. They also require a parenting plan, but you don't have to use the form the courts provide.

Then complete the forms that apply to your case below:

  • To open a divorce case at the same time as your parental responsibility case, complete the Petition for Dissolution With Dependent or Minor Child(ren). If either parent plans to move more than 50 miles away, complete the Petition for Dissolution With Dependent or Minor Child(ren) and Relocation instead.
  • If you're not married to the other parent, complete the Petition to Determine Paternity and for Related Relief (even if paternity is not in question). The mother or father can file this form.

Your case might require additional Florida family court forms:

  • If you can't agree how to handle responsibility, time-sharing and childcare expenses for the duration of the case, complete the Motion for Temporary Support With Dependent or Minor Child(ren) to request a temporary court order.
  • If your safety or your child's safety is at risk due to the other parent, file a Petition for Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence (also known as a restraining order). You can also file a Request for Confidential Filing of Address to keep your address private.
  • If you can't afford court fees, ask to have them reduced or waived by submitting an Application for Civil Indigent Status.
  • If someone who is not a lawyer with the Florida Bar helps you fill out forms, you must submit a Disclosure From Nonlawyer. The nonlawyer also needs to sign the forms they help you complete.

Step 2: File your family court forms and pay fees

Your case officially begins when you file the initial petition with your local circuit court. The parent who opens the case is the petitioner, while the other parent is the respondent. Both are litigants.

You can submit paperwork in person to the circuit court clerk, or you can e-file. If you choose the second option, the majority of your court communication will be electronic and you must scan any forms that have notarized signatures.

You'll have to pay fees. Petitions usually cost $300 to $500 each.

Step 3: Serve the other parent

After filing, the petitioner must formally notify the respondent through a process called service.

Take your court paperwork to the sheriff's office or a private processing server to have them deliver it to the respondent. The sheriff generally charges less than a private server. If the other parent can't be located for service, tell the court clerk.

Step 4: Wait for the other parent to respond

The other parent must file a response to your petition (or request an extension) within 20 days of service. They're also required to serve you with copies of their response.

The respondent has the option to contest your petition, i.e., to challenge some or all of it. They can add a counterpetition to request something not in your filing or to propose an alternative, such as a different time-sharing schedule.

Or the respondent can file an uncontested response, which means they agree with your petition and don't want to challenge anything. They may still file a counterpetition to request something additional.

If they file a counterpetition, you'll need to file an Answer to Counterpetition.

If the other parent doesn't respond or request an extension before the deadline, you can file a Motion for Default. Once the judge approves your motion, the case will proceed without the other parent's involvement.

Information for respondents

When you're served with a petition, you must respond within 20 days.

You should find all the paperwork you need in the Florida Courts database of family law forms. Possible forms include:

  • Answer to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (without counterpetition)
  • Answer to Petition and Counterpetition for Dissolution With Dependent or Minor Child(ren)
  • Answer to Petition to Determine Paternity and for Related Relief (without counterpetition)
  • Answer to Petition and Counterpetition to Determine Paternity and for Related Relief
  • Motion for Scientific Paternity Testing

You can e-file or submit your response to the clerk's office in person. You also must serve the other parent with copies of your response (instructions in Step 3).

If you miss the deadline and the other parent is granted a default motion, you can file a Motion to Set Aside Default. You'll need to provide an explanation and evidence of why you didn't respond on time.

Department of Revenue (DOR) Child Support Program

In some circumstances, parents may obtain paternity, child support or time-sharing orders from the Department of Revenue Child Support Program. These orders can be issued in conjunction with orders from your family court case after you follow the steps above.

If parents don't need a divorce or parental responsibility and time-sharing decisions, they can skip the family court steps above and instead go through the DOR's process.

Preparing for what comes next

The next step in the family court process depends on your situation. If parents agree on everything requested in petitions and counterpetitions, they can move on to the settlement process. Otherwise, both parents will need to attend a parenting class within 45 days.

No matter what's next for you, take advantage of technology to be fully prepared.

The Custody X Change online app offers custom time-sharing calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, a parenting expense tracker and more.

You can use the app in many ways in Florida: to put together proposals for the other parent, negotiate, prepare settlement paperwork or organize evidence.

Be prepared for every step of your case with Custody X Change.

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