8 Steps to Parental Responsibility in a Florida Court

If you pursue parental responsibility and time-sharing in court, your case will follow the basic steps below, with some variation based on your situation and any special circumstances.

At any point during the process, parents can submit an agreement to the court for approval. They would then jump to Step 8.

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Step 1: Preparation and research

Before you begin your case, review common misconceptions in Florida family law and other resources for parents.

Then, consider the parenting plan and time-sharing schedule that will work best for your children.

Ideally, you should hire a lawyer to help develop a legal strategy, complete forms and represent you in court. If you can't afford a lawyer, you may be able to use legal aid services. At a minimum, have a legal professional review your paperwork.

Step 2: Filing

Next, open a family law case.

If you're divorcing, responsibility, time-sharing and child support will be decided as part of your marriage dissolution case. Married parents who have separated can petition for these orders without filing for divorce.

Unmarried parents must file a paternity case to ask for responsibility, time-sharing and child support (even if paternity is not in question).

Your case will be assigned to a judge who will oversee every step of the process. In some counties, parents who represent themselves (pro se litigants) have their cases decided by a general magistrate, whose final judgment is approved by a judge.

Step 3: Parenting class

Florida law requires both parents to take the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course from an approved provider within 45 days of opening a case. The class lasts at least four hours, with the aim of educating parents about how divorce impacts families. Parents can take the class separately.

Step 4: Discovery (mandatory disclosure)

This is when parents exchange information so each side knows what the other is preparing. This stage can continue in the background while the following steps unfold, lasting for several months or even a year.

Within the first 45 days of the case, parents must submit child support paperwork and financial affidavits (either the affidavit for annual incomes up to $50,000 or the affidavit for incomes over $50,000) to the court and to each other. This is called mandatory disclosure.

Your case may also require formal discovery, which can include interviews of parents and witnesses under oath (called depositions), subpoenas and other requests for evidence.

Possible: Hearings

If a parent asks for a temporary order on an issue that can't wait until the end of the case, the judge will typically schedule a hearing. You might ask for an order to set a time-sharing schedule for the duration of the case, to get permission to move more than 50 miles, etc.

The court will also hold a hearing if either parent contests paternity, during which it's likely to order DNA testing.

Possible: Case management conferences

In case management conferences, the judge meets with parents or lawyers to administer a case, not to decide motions or orders. Conferences can be requested by a parent or called by a judge.

You'll have a case management conference during discovery if the judge needs to resolve evidence disputes, enforce rules or issue orders to keep the process moving.

You may also have a case management conference after discovery, where the judge can take many actions: set a mediation date, schedule hearings, appoint a guardian ad litem, order a social investigation, etc.

Step 5: Mediation

Cases that get this far without settling proceed to required mediation (except those involving domestic violence). The mediator helps parents resolve issues and create a parenting plan in the children's best interests. In most cases, at least one three-hour session is mandated.

If parents reach a complete settlement in mediation, they submit it for the court's approval and skip to Step 8.

If they reach a partial settlement, they submit it to court and continue through the steps below to decide the remaining issues.

If parents cannot agree on anything, the case proceeds through the following steps.

Step 6: Pretrial conference

Most judges require a pretrial conference with parents and their lawyers. In some counties, the conference occurs a few weeks before your trial date; in others, your trial date is set at the conference.

At the conference, the judge sets ground rules for the trial and may encourage settlement one last time.

Step 7: Trial

If parents fail to agree on all issues, they ultimately go to trial, where both have the opportunity to present evidence and question witnesses in front of the judge.

You may have to wait months after mediation for your trial to begin, depending on the court's schedule. A trial can last hours, days, weeks, or in extremely complex cases, months.

At the end of the trial, the judge or general magistrate announces their decisions.

If a judge heard the trial, they issue a final judgment. If a general magistrate presided, a judge has to approve their decision before it becomes a final judgment.

Step 8: Final judgment

A final judgment (also called a final order) brings litigation to a close. It includes a parenting plan that lays out the legal terms parents must abide by until children turn 18 or become emancipated.

As children grow older and families evolve, judgments may need to be updated. If parents can't agree how to modify a plan or time-sharing schedule, they can ask the court to decide.

Possible: Contesting a final judgment

Parents can't contest a judgment simply because they don't like it. They must have legal grounds, such as proof of an incorrect factual finding or an abuse of power. And they must abide by judgments until a court rules otherwise.

If a judgment is overturned, another trial will decide the issues.

Parents have several options for contesting.

If a general magistrate heard the case, a parent has 10 days from the trial to request a hearing with a judge to present evidence of the magistrate's mistake or misconduct.

If a judge heard the case, a parent has 10 days from when the final judgment was issued to motion to have the case reheard. Motions go through the trial judge, so they often fail, but they are an important step in the appeals process.

Alternatively, parents in either situation can appeal to the district court within 30 days of the final judgment's date. (If the parent files for a rehearing first, their appeal deadline is 30 days after the rehearing finishes.) Appealing means you ask a panel of judges to review the case. The process typically happens via documents rather than court appearances, and the court usually needs at least a year to make a decision.

If more than 30 days have passed since an order was issued, parents have two options: a motion to set aside a judgment, or a motion for relief of judgment. These are typically only granted if a parent perjured themselves (lied under oath) or defrauded the court (e.g., by hiding financial information).

Throughout your case

During the parental responsibility process, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft time-sharing schedules, track your time with your children, keep a log about interactions with the other parent, and more.

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

With a parenting plan template, parenting time calendars, a digital journal and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your case.

Throughout the process, take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts.

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