In Florida, when parents come into court for a decision on parenting arrangements, judges base their decisions on what is in the best interests of the child. Florida law recognizes that children generally benefit from maintaining frequent contact with both parents and from having both parents participate in parental decision-making. Judges will assess every situation individually, but neither parent begins with any greater right to custody. Judges can consider any factor relevant to parenting, and are guided by some factors in Florida’s law, in the following areas:
Health and Safety – Florida favors hared parental responsibility, but not if a court finds that it would be detrimental to the child. Parents may lose custody or visitation rights or be ordered supervised visitation if there’s evidence of domestic or sexual violence, or evidence of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect. In assessing a child’s health and safety, a court may also consider the mental and physical health of the parents or evidence of substance abuse within a parent’s home.
Emotional and Developmental Needs – Parents should put the needs of their children before their own. A court will consider the extent to which each parent has demonstrated an ability and desire to meet a child’s developmental needs and be involved in their life. The court will also consider each parent’s ability to provide routines for the child, including consistent discipline and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime, and the extent to which each parent participated in parenting tasks prior to coming to court for a decision on parenting arrangements. A judge will consider the impact of frequent travel between the homes of the parents, particularly when the children are young.
Co-Parenting and Communication Skills – Florida law places a strong emphasis on the ability of each parent to encourage a positive relationship between the child and the other parent. Each parent’s ability and willingness to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to make reasonable adjustments without resorting to court intervention, will be assessed. Judges will also consider each parent’s ability to communicate with the other parent, to keep the other parent informed of the child’s activities and other issues, and to adopt a unified front regarding major issues, which is important. A court might reduce a parent’s custody or parenting time if the parent provides false evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect against the other parent. Parents are also expected to protect a child from the stress of divorce, which means not making negative comments about the other parent in front of the child.
Moral Fitness – Florida law provides that the moral fitness of a parent is a factor in determining the best interests of a child. Moral fitness generally refers to circumstances that might affect a child’s moral and ethical development—for example, substance abuse, frequent casual relationships with multiple partners, verbal abuse, or any type of illegal behavior. The court might consider the behavior of an adulterous parent during the marriage, but that would depend on whether such behavior had a significant negative impact upon the child.