When Do Courts Award Sole Custody In Florida?

The State of Florida recognizes it is generally in the child’s best interest to have an equally positive relationship with both parents, so under what circumstances can a parent be awarded sole custody in Florida?

Many parents often ask what they can do to get sole custody in their child custody case. The truth is in the State of Florida, the term sole custody is no longer used by the courts, and it is unlikely a parent will obtain sole parental responsibility and time-sharing unless there is a significant danger the other parent presents to the child’s safety and well-being. However, it is possible for a parent’s decision-making ability responsibility and time-sharing to be limited, and even supervised, if necessary conditions exist to warrant such limitations to the parent’s parental responsibility and time-sharing.

Florida’s Default Shared Parental Responsibility

Florida’s legal terms are a bit different from many other states when it comes to child custody. Florida uses the term “parental responsibility” to describe the legal custody of the child and the term “time-sharing” to describe the physical custody of the child. The default custody arrangement in the State of Florida is to grant both parents shared parental responsibility and time-sharing. This means parents will equally split the responsibility of making decisions regarding things such as education, medical care, and religion for their children and will also share an equal amount of time spent with their children. Courts favor this type of child custody arrangement because they recognize that it is generally in the best interest of the children to enjoy a healthy, loving relationship with both parents and for both parents to have an active role in the lives of their children.

It is possible for a shared parental responsibility arrangement to include a decision-making authority designation. This designation is used to determine which parent will have final decision-making authority when both parents are not able to come to a mutual agreement on the child’s education, medical care, and religion. The decision-making authority designation is designed to prevent parents from having to return to the courts when mutual agreements cannot be reached.

What Is Sole Parental Responsibility?

The alternative to shared parental responsibility is sole parental responsibility. When a parent is awarded sole parental responsibility, they have the sole decision-making authority for making decisions regarding the child’s educational, medical, religious, and discipline. It is important to note that sole parental responsibility does not necessarily mean the parent will also have sole time-sharing. Even if a parent is awarded sole parental responsibility, the other parent may still be awarded time-sharing, also known as “visitation”, rights although these rights may be limited.

Sole Parental Responsibility And Sole Time-Sharing Is Very Rare In Florida

It is extremely rare for a court in Florida to order sole parental responsibility and sole time-sharing. The determination to order this type of arrangement is typically reserved for extreme and severe child custody cases in which it would be detrimental for the children to continue a relationship with the other parent. Because a parent seeking sole parental responsibility and/or sole time-sharing is asking the courts to severely limit the other parent’s rights, the parent seeking sole parental responsibility and/or sole time-sharing must be able to show it is in the child’s best interest to do so. There are many factors the court considers when making a custody determination in the child’s best interest. Below we’ll look at some of the factors the courts consider when determining whether sole parental responsibility and/or sole time-sharing would be in the best interests of the child. And even when a parent is awarded sole parental responsibility and/or sole time-sharing of a child, the court will list specific things the other parent can do to regain the trust of the court and have their parental responsibility and time-sharing rights reinstated.

Domestic Violence, Physical Abuse, And Sexual Violence

If the court finds any evidence of abuse, neglect, or abandonment exhibited by one parent, they may make the decision to award sole parental responsibility and/or sole time-sharing to the other, non-abusive parent. Factors considered when determining if there is a danger to the child based on abuse, neglect, or abandonment include:

  • A history of domestic violence
  • A history of abuse against any child
  • A history of sexual violence

Florida law recognizes any evidence of a parent being convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor or higher involving domestic violence as a rebuttable presumption of a danger to the child. However, even in cases where a domestic violence case does not go to court, evidence may still be presented to the court in a child custody case to be considered.

Substance Abuse

The court will also consider any evidence of a parent struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, especially if it is in the presence of the children. The court takes allegations of substance abuse extremely seriously because if substance abuse is present it limits the parent’s ability to care for another person, especially a child, and can even become dangerous to the child. Additionally, the courts recognize that a person dealing with a substance abuse problem should be focusing on their own self recovery before they can adequately focus on caring for and spending time with their children. When trying to prove a drug or alcohol abuse problem the courts can order the parent alleged to have an issue to complete hair follicle and urine drug and alcohol testing.

Mental Health

Finally, the court will consider any evidence of a dangerous mental health illness of a parent which could pose a danger to the child. Mental health issues can be considered in child custody cases when a parent is suffering from a mental health issue that makes it difficult for them to care for themselves or their children, such as schizophrenia, severe depression, or bipolar disorder. When a parent is suffering from mental health issues there is often a valid concern for the safety of the child or the concern that the parent will try to flee with the child. Evidence used to support claims of mental health issues often include mental health records and psychological testing. If a parent suffers from a mental health issue but the issue is well-controlled with proper medication, the fact that the parent is receiving proper medical attention and addressing their mental health issue may also be taken into consideration in favor of that parent.

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.