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The State of Florida applies the “child’s best interest” standard when determining how to divide child custody and time sharing between parents, but what does a child’s best interest mean?
Most parents will do everything they can for the health, safety, security, and happiness of their child. As parents most of the decisions we make are made with the thought of what is best for our children and our family in the back of our minds. However, sometimes parents are not able to agree on what is best for a child and sometimes parents act in harmful ways even though they believe they are doing what is best for their children. In divorce and child custody cases where the parents are unable to agree on a custody and timesharing plan the court is then faced with determining what the child custody and timesharing plan should be. In these cases, the courts are required to use the “best interests of the child” standard when developing a child custody and timesharing plan. But what does best interest mean? And how does a court determine what the best interest of the child is when the child’s own parents can’t even agree on what it is?
Shared Parental Responsibility
The general belief of the courts in Florida is that it is in the best interest of the child to enjoy an equally active, close, and loving relationship with both parents. Because of this, in the State of Florida neither parent will begin the case with more custody rights or responsibilities than the other. Following this belief, the state will encourage and grant a custody order of shared parental custody and timesharing, meaning both parents will share an equal amount of time with the child and will have equal rights in legal decision-making regarding the child.
There are two different types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to which parent the child will physically reside with, and how often. Legal custody refers to which parent has the right to make decisions with regards to the child’s education, health, religion, development, and well-being. The courts prefer issuing joint legal custody, even when parents are not sharing joint physical custody, unless doing so would be detrimental to the child.
Factors The Court Uses To Determine A Child’s Best Interest
Florida’s state statutes specifically lay out certain factors a court should consider when determining what is in a child’s best interest, although these factors are not exhaustive, and courts are encouraged to consider any relevant factor in determining a child’s best interest for custody and timesharing. Some of these factors include:
- The emotional bond the child has with each parent and other family members such as siblings
- The level of care each parent is capable and willing to provide to the child
- The anticipated division of parental responsibilities, including the amount to which third-parties are anticipated in having to assist in parental responsibilities
- Whether the child is already living in one parent’s home and the impact changing primary residence would have on the child
- The mental and physical well-being of each parent
- Any history of domestic violence and the role of the parents in these incidents
- Any history of abuse or neglect with any child
- The willingness of each parent to encourage and foster a positive co-parenting relationship and allow access to the child
These are just a few of the many factors that can be considered when determining the best interest of a child. You should review the specific details of your case with an experienced family law attorney to determine a legal strategy that shows you have your child’s best interest in mind.
Health And Safety
One factor a court may consider when determining the best interest of a child in a custody case is the health and safety of both the child and each of the parents. When considering the health and safety of the child, the court will take into consideration any history of abuse, neglect, abandonment, or sexual or physical violence. If any of these factors are present, the court may completely remove a parent’s rights to visitation or may require the parent’s visitations to be supervised. When considering the health and safety of the parents, the court will consider any evidence of substance abuse, along with any physical disabilities or mental health concerns of each parent.
Emotional And Developmental Needs
When considering the child’s emotional and developmental needs in a child custody case, the court will examine each parent’s ability to put the needs and interests of the child before their own. This is where it is extremely important for a parent to be involved in their child’s life. Factors considered when examining a parent’s ability to meet their child’s emotional and developmental needs include:
- How well the parent knows and how much they have interacted with the child’s teachers, medical providers, and friends
- How much the parent participates in the child’s school and extracurricular activities
- How well the parent knows the child, including their daily activities, likes, and dislikes
- The ability of the parent to provide a structured and stable environment for the child
- Each parents ability to provide a structured daily routine for the child, consisting of schedules for homework, meals, bedtime, and discipline
- The impact of frequent travel between the homes of the parents and/or the child’s school
- The extent to which each parent participated in parenting tasks prior to the divorce
- If a judge believes a child is old enough and mature enough to make an intelligent and independent decision, they may consider the child’s preference, although this is not common in the State of Florida
Courts favor maintaining consistency and stability and thus will attempt to provide a child custody arrangement that will be the least disruptive to the child as possible.
Parent’s Willingness To Co-Parent
A parent’s willingness to cooperate and adhere to the ordered custody plan and their likeliness to encourage a continued positive relationship with the other parent can also be a determining factor in a child custody case. There are many factors a judge may consider when determining a parent’s willingness to co-parent but some of the most common factors include:
- A parent’s record of cooperating, or lack of cooperating, with an existing parenting schedule
- A parent’s ability and willingness to make reasonable accommodations to the existing parenting schedule without requiring court interference
- Whether a parent speaks badly about the other parent in the presence of the child
- A parent’s history of interfering, or attempting to interfere, with the child’s visitation with the other parent in any way
- How well one parent communicates with the other parent and their willingness to keep the other parent informed of important details and events of the child
If one parent is obviously more cooperative or willing to co-parent and encourage a positive relationship with the other parent than the other parent is then the cooperative parent will likely have an edge in court when it comes to determining a child custody arrangement. And if one parent is clearly trying to alienate the child from the other parent the courts will not take this lightly. The reason the courts consider a parent’s willingness to co-parent so heavily is to minimize future conflict between the parents and decrease the likelihood of the parents having to return to court.
Compassionate family law attorneys advocate for your family’s best interests and guide our clients through every step of the complex family law system
The caring family law attorneys at The Storay Advocacy Group, P.A. (SAG) genuinely care for their clients’ best interests and want to walk with them through every step of their family law child custody case. Whether you are in the process of getting divorced or already have a custody order you would like to have modified, our child custody lawyers can help. It is our passion to help families through their most emotional legal challenges and aide them in finding the solution that is right for them. To schedule your free and confidential legal consultation with one of our skilled family law child custody attorneys call us at 813-502-5520 or contact us online. We look forward to working with you soon.