Child custody can be a difficult and emotional issue in divorce cases where children are involved. In almost all these cases, a decision must be made as to who will care for the child and with whom the child will live with. Sometimes divorcing parents can come to an agreement and these decisions can be made in a straight-forward manner. But other times, parents will not agree on some (or any!) aspects relating to child custody.
Florida Courts and Child Custody Rulings
Courts in Florida are always most concerned with what is in the best interests of the child. Divorces or other such fractures in family life can take a large toll on a child. The child's home and family circumstances can have a serious effect on the child's life.
As a result, child custody rulings are taken very seriously by the courts and many factors and circumstances are taken into account prior to making a decision.
Factors for Custody Awards
The primary factors that the court will look at to determine how to award custody are the following:
- The child's school and home history;
- Parents' mental, physical and moral status;
- Permanence of the proposed home;
- Continuity of the child's situation;
- Parent's ability to provide;
- Love, affection and existing ties between child and respective parent;
- Domestic violence (if any);
- Whether the parent will cooperate and encourage contact by the other parent;
- Whether the parent will be reasonable in accommodating any changes that need to be made;
- Whether the parent will honor the time-sharing schedule;
- The involvement of each parent with the child's life (i.e. teachers, friends, extracurricular activities, etc.);
- The ability of the parents to meet the child's developmental needs;
- How parental responsibilities will be divided up after the proceeding is over, including how much of the parental responsibilities will be performed by someone else (such as a nanny).
A parent needs to be prepared to give as much information as possible to the court. This includes information on the other parent, as well. Without all the information at hand, it becomes more difficult for a court to hand out a fair custody ruling.
Florida Courts Have Wide Discretion in Custody Matters
Under appropriate circumstances, the court is free to divide up custody in whichever manner is most productive for the child. For example, if custody is divided between two parents, one parent may get the authority to make the educational and health care decisions on behalf of the child while the other parent may not be as involved with these decisions. On the other hand, the court may state that one parent will have the authority to make educational decisions and the other parent will make health care decisions. Although these are basic examples, it should be noted that the court has discretion to divide up rights to the child's custody in whichever manner is determined to be best for the child.
If giving custody to either of the child's parents would somehow be harmful to the child, either emotionally or physically, the court also has the power to appoint guardianship custody to someone else entirely. If the court finds that this arrangement would be in the child's best interests, the guardian may be awarded custody of the child. For example, a child's grandparent may request to be the child's guardian, or it may be a family friend or other relative.
Florida's child custody laws can be complex. Be sure to contact a Florida child custody lawyer if you have additional questions or require counsel.