Florida Parental Responsibility & Time-Sharing (Custody)

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

Physical custody and visitation — whom the children live and spend time with — are now called time-sharing.

However, you'll still hear the old terms in informal situations.

Keep in mind that some approaches to parental responsibility and time-sharing in Florida 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
  • Relationships 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

Florida law assumes parents will have shared parental responsibility (called joint legal custody in other places) unless the parents decide against it in a settlement or a judge rules after a trial that it wouldn't be in the children's best interests.

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 all major decisions together. Or they may be able to act independently.

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

Sole parental responsibility

Sole parental responsibility (aka sole legal custody in other places) gives one parent all major 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 gets 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 (called joint physical custody elsewhere), 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. This is presumed to be best for the children until proven otherwise.
  • 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 (called sole physical custody elsewhere). 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. Once 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 if it goes to trial, 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 lawyers. 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 lawyers 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 around $500 total.

Parents with low incomes can apply to have court fees waived, reduced or delayed 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 (or beforehand).

Having the father's name on the child's birth certificate does not prove his paternity.

Representing yourself

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

If you're going pro se, have a legal professional review all your paperwork. Familiarize yourself with Chapter 61 of the Florida statutes and common misconceptions in Florida family law.

The Florida family courts offer a number of resources for pro se litigants. In addition, legal aid services provide help for parents who can't afford a lawyer.

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 children, 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.

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