Florida Trials for Parental Responsibility (Child Custody)

It's a common misconception that all parental responsibility cases go to trial. In fact, most parents reach a complete settlement agreement through an alternative dispute resolution method.

If you and the other parent can't settle, your case will go to trial for a judge to decide. In Florida, family court cases do not have juries.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Make My Florida Plan Now

To help ensure consistency and fairness, Florida requires the same judicial officer to preside over all your hearings and your trial. Usually, this is a judge, but in some counties, parents representing themselves have cases heard by a general magistrate.

Trials look the same whether a judge or magistrate oversees your case, but a magistrate's decision must be approved by a judge.

Trials may take place online or in a courtroom. Either way, they're open to the public, but parents can request a closed trial if they have confidentiality or safety concerns.

Scheduling and timing

When parents decide to give up on court-ordered mediation, the court schedules a trial to resolve the remaining disagreements — usually three months to a year away.

Trials for straightforward cases often finish in a day. More complex trials, however, can last days or even weeks.

Preparing for your trial

Your trial will result in a final judgment that includes a parenting plan, time-sharing schedule and child support order, so preparation is crucial.

If you have a lawyer, they'll guide you through preparations. They'll help you gather evidence, choose witnesses, develop arguments and plan testimony. You should always be honest with your attorney so they can best prepare your case.

If you're representing yourself, prepare as thoroughly as a lawyer would. Review the judge's policies for their courtroom, the Family Law Rules of Procedure and expectations for courtroom behavior. Failure to follow these will reflect negatively on you and could affect the outcome of your case.


Parents present evidence to the judge to prove their own claims or challenge each other's claims. The judge will only allow evidence that's been submitted properly.

When selecting evidence, consider what will strengthen your case.

Common types of evidence include:

Evidence must be relevant to parenting. For example, exhibits relating to a divorce issue like infidelity won't be accepted.


You'll also need to decide who you'll call as witnesses to support your case.

Two types of witnesses exist: expert and lay.

Expert witnesses are appointed by the court or hired by parents to offer professional opinions. They can include social investigators, doctors and more.

Lay witnesses have nonexpert knowledge relevant to your case. They can testify in court or through character reference letters to what they have personally observed. These witnesses may include parents themselves and the family's:

  • Friends, relatives and neighbors
  • Teachers and school counselors
  • Child care providers
  • Doctors and therapists
  • Religious leaders
  • Social workers

Children rarely testify at parental responsibility trials. When a judge does permit it in special circumstances, the children typically appear via video to keep them out of the courtroom.

Parents have the right to question their own witnesses and the other parent's witnesses.

Witnesses swear to tell the truth and can face legal consequences if they lie in a trial or deposition (an on-the-record interview).

They must comply with orders to attend trials and depositions.


During discovery, parents exchange information so each knows what the other is preparing. This process can last months. You'll have to hand over financial documents and a witness list. You might also want to take steps like interviewing the other parent's witnesses in depositions.

What happens in a trial

A judge or general magistrate sits at the front of the courtroom when trials happen in person. Parents sit at separate tables with their lawyers, and observers sit behind them in the gallery. Witnesses can only enter the gallery after they've testified.

Virtual trials are also common today.

Your children can never observe the trial.

When it's time to begin, the judge or a court clerk announces the rules for the trial, decisions already made in hearings, and any settlement agreements that have been filed.

Then, the petitioner (the parent who filed the case) can make an opening statement to present their overall argument and preview their evidence. The respondent (the other parent) can follow with their own opening statement.

Next, the petitioner offers evidence and calls witnesses. After the petitioner questions each witness, the respondent can also ask questions of the witness in what's called cross-examination.

Once the petitioner has presented their case, the respondent presents evidence and calls witnesses. The petitioner has the right to cross-examine the respondent's witnesses.

After all the evidence has been presented, each parent gives a closing argument.

If you have a lawyer, they will make the opening and closing statements, speak to the judge for you, and question witnesses. If you're representing yourself, you will do all of this. Rather than question yourself when it's your turn to testify, you can read a statement you prepare in advance.

Judges may announce their decisions immediately, but often they call a short recess while they review the evidence. They may adjourn for days or weeks if the case is complex.

The details of the decision will be mailed to you within 10 days of the announcement in the form of a final judgment. If your case was heard by a general magistrate, a supervising judge must first approve the judgment.

Your case is now closed. In rare situations, a parent may contest a final judgment.

Trial tips

Parental responsibility trials can be confusing and stressful, and a misstep can have far-reaching consequences. Keep the following in mind:

  • Before your trial date, observe a trial with your judge.
  • Research rules and expectations in your county and with your judge.
  • On trial days, dress like you're going to a job interview.
  • Arrive early in case you have computer issues (for online trials) or trouble finding parking (for in-person ones).
  • Don't bring new romantic partners.
  • Arrange childcare for your children.
  • Don't appear too friendly with witnesses who are supposed to be unbiased.
  • Always refer to the judge or magistrate as "Your Honor."
  • Show respect to everyone, and never interrupt.
  • Ask for clarification if you don't understand something.
  • When answering questions, take your time, but don't ramble or go off-topic.
  • Give your answers truthfully and only explain your reasoning if prompted.
  • Control your emotions; the judge can charge you with contempt if you're disruptive.

Staying organized

Going to trial over parental responsibility and time-sharing requires serious organization.

You'll need to present evidence, which could range from messages with the other parent to a calendar showing when you care for your child. You should also present a proposed parenting plan and schedule to the court.

The Custody X Change app lets you create and manage all of these elements in one place with a variety of tools you can use in Florida.

With parent-to-parent messaging, personalized custody calendars, a parenting plan template and more, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared not only for trial but for every step of your case.

Take advantage of our technology to get what's best for your children.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Make My Florida Plan Now

Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

Join the 60,000+ other parents who have used our co-parenting tools

Organize your evidence

Track your expenses, journal what happens, and record actual time. Print organized, professional documents.

Co-parent civilly

Our parent-to-parent messaging system, which detects hostile language, lets you collaborate without the drama.

Get an accurate child support order

Child support is based on parenting time or overnights in most jurisdictions. Calculate time instead of estimating.

Succeed by negotiating

Explore options together with visual calendars and detailed parenting plans. Present alternatives and reach agreement.

Never forget an exchange or activity

Get push notifications and email reminders, sync with other calendar apps and share with the other parent.

Save up to $50,000 by avoiding court

Write your parenting agreement without lawyers. Our templates walk you through each step.

Make My Plan

Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Make My Florida Plan Now

No thanks, I don't need a parenting plan