Special Circumstances in FL Parental Responsibility

In Florida, a number of special circumstances may affect your parental responsibility and time-sharing case.

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Unmarried parents and paternity

Parents who weren't married to each other at the time of their child's birth must confirm paternity before parental responsibility, time-sharing or child support can be decided. They can do this before they file a case or as part of the family court process.

The Department of Revenue (more below) sometimes helps confirm paternity.

Confirming paternity prior to a case

To confirm paternity at birth, parents must list the father's name on the child's birth certificate, then both sign the paternity acknowledgment section and have it notarized. It's a common misconception that simply listing the father on the certificate confirms his paternity.

To confirm paternity any time after birth, parents can complete the Acknowledgement of Paternity, which must be notarized or signed by two adult witnesses. Or they can complete voluntary DNA testing with a certified agency.

If parents have confirmed paternity in one of these ways, they submit copies of the supporting documents when they file their initial petition.

Confirming paternity as part of a case

If paternity is not already documented in one of the above ways, the petitioner names the biological father in their initial court filing, and the respondent either confirms or challenges in their response.

If the respondent challenges paternity, the judge usually orders DNA testing. To specifically request this, file a Motion for Scientific Paternity Testing.

Department of Revenue (DOR) cases

The Department of Revenue Child Support Program may be involved in your case for a number of reasons.

For one, the DOR enforces child support orders.

Additionally, parents can opt to get a paternity order or child support order from the DOR instead of from family court, as long as they don't need a divorce or parental responsibility decisions.

If parents agree on a time-sharing arrangement, the DOR can issue the schedule as part of a child support order. Parents can create a schedule together or agree to the Title IV-D Standard Parenting Time Plan. The DOR does not decide parenting time disputes.

The DOR automatically opens a child support case for divorcing parents who receive public assistance and for unmarried parents who apply for public assistance. If parents have filed or need to file a family court case, the DOR works with the court.

Parents who only receive Medicaid can apply to open a DOR case for child support services.

The DOR typically moves much faster than family court, so unmarried parents who agree on time-sharing and don't need family court intervention commonly choose this route.

Protection from domestic violence during your case

Domestic violence victims should consult with the court clerk, a legal aid office or an attorney before filing a case.

These professionals can help you ask to conceal your address and request a protection order.

If the judge wants to hear from the other parent before deciding whether to issue the temporary protection order, they'll schedule a hearing for the earliest possible date, no later than 15 days after your request.

Many times, judges issue these orders without the other parent's involvement (ex parte, in legal terms). Within 15 days of issuance, they must hold a hearing with both parents to determine whether to extend the protection.

History of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse or crime

Convictions or corroborated allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse and crime significantly lower the likelihood that a parent will receive shared responsibility.

If a parent has these issues, the court presumes it's in the children's best interests for the other parent to have sole parental responsibility, or at least the majority of decision-making power. This presumption can be overturned if the parent proves their behavior is in the past or not detrimental to the children.

Even a parent with limited or no parental responsibility will usually receive some parenting time, often with restrictions like mandatory supervision. Judges must provide steps the parent can take to remove the restrictions or increase their time. For example, a parent with substance abuse issues may have to get treatment and prove sobriety.

Severe instances of child abuse and neglect can lead to termination of parental rights by Florida's dependency court.

Contact the Department of Children and Families for more information about child abuse reporting and investigations.

Parental alienation

Parental alienation occurs when a parent attempts to distort their child's relationship with the other parent through false claims and manipulation. A form of emotional abuse, it receives serious consideration from Florida family courts.

Alienating behaviors can include a parent:

  • Making disparaging comments about the other parent to the children
  • Blocking children's access to the other parent
  • Making false abuse claims
  • Using children to communicate negative information
  • Making children feel guilty for interacting with and loving the other parent
  • Contributing to the deterioration of the other parent's relationship with the children

Indications or accusations of alienation generally lead the court to order a social investigation.

If the investigator identifies alienation, they typically recommend the alienated parent receive the majority of decision-making powers or even sole parenting responsibility. They may also recommend supervised parenting time for the alienating parent, family counseling and parenting coordination.

Parental alienation may also be grounds for modifying a court order. Speak to an attorney if you need to prove or disprove allegations.

Guardians ad litem

If the judge believes that a child's needs are not being thoroughly addressed, they may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL). Though the guardian ad litem is often a lawyer, they're not the child's lawyer – rather, they investigate what's in the child's best interests.

Like a social investigator, the GAL interviews parents, children, family members and others. They investigate the situation from the child's perspective to make an official recommendation to the judge about responsibility and time-sharing. If the child is old enough to understand what's happening, the recommendation may reference the child's preferences.

In mediation, case management conferences, hearings and trials, the guardian ad litem may speak on behalf of the child. For this reason, many legal professionals think of the guardian as "the voice of the child."

Judges appoint a guardian ad litem when parents struggle to prioritize a child's interests, especially in cases involving child abuse, neglect, addiction and similar issues. Parents can also request a guardian ad litem.

Parents pay the GAL's fees, which typically range between $200 and $350 per hour. The judge decides how parents must divide the costs or if they qualify for a fee waiver.

Language interpretation

All court business and paperwork must be done in English.

For hearings and trials, court interpreters are available for free. For court-ordered mediation and social investigations, only low-income parties receive free interpretation, while others have to to hire a court-certified interpreter.

If Florida doesn't certify court interpreters in your language, contact your county clerk's office. Friends and family members cannot interpret for you.

You must request an interpreter from the court at least seven days before you need services, but it's best to make the request as soon as possible. Ask your county clerk for instructions.

Court-provided interpreters do spoken-language work for court proceedings only. They can't translate documents or attend meetings with your lawyer.

If you use a legal aid service, it will likely have multilingual staff members, including lawyers, who can help you outside of court. Otherwise, experts recommend hiring a court-certified translator and advise against asking your children to translate court documents.

Many county and state websites have information in Spanish and Haitian Creole, and your county clerk's office may have printed materials in multiple languages.

Undocumented parents

In Florida, no law prevents undocumented parents from receiving parental responsibility or time-sharing. At the same time, no law prevents a judge from considering the parent's immigration status.

Before filing a case or responding to a petition, undocumented parents should contact their local legal aid office or an immigration lawyer with knowledge of Florida family law.

If a parent is detained or deported for immigration issues, they have the right to participate in the case remotely. They can use phone or video to attend mediation, testify and more.

Addressing special situations in your parenting plan

Your parenting plan should be unique to your family and reflect your specific needs.

If a lawyer or mediator is writing your plan, it's important you share with them any circumstances the plan should address.

If you're writing your own plan, you have the flexibility to include what you want. But — the plan needs to follow a format the judge will understand, as well as use airtight language that leaves no room for interpretation.

The Custody X Change parenting plan template walks you through common provisions, while letting you enter as many custom provisions as you want. It's a sure way to get a plan that's tailored to your family and meets court standards for formatting and language.

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