Filing for Custody in Florida

Florida is one of the US states with higher divorce rates than just about anywhere else in the country. In 2019 alone, there were 3.5 divorces per thousand inhabitants in the state, making Florida the fourth highest-ranking state for divorce. A sticky area when it comes to any divorce case is the issue of child custody

Let’s look at some of the things to keep in mind when filing for custody in Florida. 

Florida Child Custody Law

Notably, Florida custody laws have no preference to mothers or fathers when deciding child custody issues. The decision on who will have custody of a child is based on the specific facts and circumstances of each case. During the custody hearing, the judge will take into account the child’s best interests when deciding how time-sharing will be allocated among the parents. 

How Do I File for Custody in a Florida Divorce Case

How you file for custody in a Florida divorce case will depend on the specific circumstances of your case:

  • Married/wedded: If you are married and involved in a divorce in Florida, parental responsibility will be determined in the divorce proceeding. If you are married and have not initiated a divorce, you will file for custody in the circuit court where the child lives.
  • Unmarried/unwedded: If you are not married, you must first file a petition to determine the child’s paternity. The court may order DNA testing to determine the paternity and issue a parental plan outlining how both parties will share the responsibilities and decision-making authority for the children. The court may also create a time-sharing arrangement and award child support. As mentioned earlier, this is usually done in a circuit court in the county where the child resides. 

Defining Common Terms in Child Custody Case 

When you are going through a divorce, several unfamiliar legal terminologies get thrown around. It is vital that you understand what these terms mean in a legal context and how they bind the custody agreement of your child. Some of the common terms in a divorce proceeding and child custody cases include:

Legal Custody: Legal custody laws allow you to make long-term decisions about the child’s upbringing and well-being. These decisions include the child’s education, medical care, religious instructions, dental care, and more. In most Florida child custody cases, legal custody is awarded to both parents in an arrangement known as “joint legal custody.” However, a court may award legal custody to one parent if it is determined that the other parent is unfit or incapable of making sound decisions about a child’s upbringing. A history of drug abuse, domestic violence, or child abuse may play a critical role in denying one parent legal custody over their child.

Physical custody: Physical custody involves where a child lives on a day-to-day basis. In Florida, parents can share the physical custody of a child, which means that a child can spend reasonable amounts of time in both parent’s separate homes. Joint physical custody is typically only awarded if both parents live near each other. If parents live far apart, physical custody is usually awarded to one parent, with the other parent enjoying limited visitation custody rights.

Joint custody: Joint custody means the children will have two engaged and involved parents and two real homes rather than one home and one place where they visit their other parent. The state of Florida has a strong preference for joint physical custody. The reasoning behind this preference is that the child will have regular contact with both parents. Any parent who doesn’t like joint custody may be required to provide evidence about why it’s not a good idea in that particular case.

Sole custody and visitation rights: In a case where one parent has the kids most of the time, that parent may be granted sole physical custody with the other parent enjoying the right to visit the kids regularly as per the visitation schedule drawn by the court. In most divorce cases, a typical arrangement is for one parent to stay in the family home with the kids, with the other parent enjoying limited visitation rights. 

Is Florida a Mother’s Right State?

Florida law awards the mother the natural guardianship of a child born out of wedlock, meaning that an unwed mother gains automatic legal custody of the child. Notably, listing the name of the father on a child’s birth certificate doesn’t grant them any custody rights in Florida.

What Are the Legal Rights of a Father?

If unwed parents get married, the marriage legitimizes the child, and there will be no need to file a paternity test. Once the couple marries, the father automatically becomes the legal father with the same rights to the child as the mother.

At What Age Can a Child Refuse to See a Parent in Florida? 

In Florida, the exact age a child can choose to stop visitation with a parent depends on their overall maturity. Unlike the other states, Florida has no specific age when a child can refuse to see a parent. However, a judge can consider a child’s preference after reviewing the following issues:

  • Whether the child is intelligent enough to make independent decisions
  • Whether the child understands the decisions, they are making
  • Whether the child has enough experience with both parents so that they make a meaningful decision

Get Legal Help

If you are fighting for legal custody of your children in Florida, working with an experienced family lawyer may help turn things around in your favor. An attorney can help you create an arrangement that will suit both you and your children until they reach adulthood. A divorce attorney will also ensure your agreement with your former spouse adheres to the Florida divorce laws. 

Additionally, an experienced attorney will also help you navigate the complex court system and handle sticky situations so that you reach amicable agreements with your former spouse in complex situations, such as shared custody across state lines. 

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