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Determining Parental Responsibility in Florida

April 17, 2015

In a Florida divorce involving a child, a major part of the proceedings is determining the levels of parental responsibility that each parent will have after the divorce is finalized. Ideally in Florida, divorced or separated parents will share parental responsibility. But depending on the circumstances of the situation, one parent may be awarded sole parental responsibility.

Shared Parental Responsibility

Florida courts prefer that parents share parental responsibility if possible, as long as it is in the child’s best interests. Shared parental responsibility means that both parents make parenting decisions, such as those regarding education, medical treatment, religion, childcare, and vacations. This responsibility is shared, regardless of which parent the child primarily lives with. The goal of shared parental responsibility is to keep both parents in the child’s life.

In all shared parental responsibility cases, the parents are required to have a parenting plan. Parenting plans outline how the child will be raised, and discuss, at minimum:

  • How the parents will share the daily responsibilities of raising the child,
  • A time sharing arrangement specifying the time that the child will spend with each parent,
  • A designation of who is responsible for the child’s health care and school, including which address to use for determining school boundaries, and
  • The methods and technologies that the child will use to communicate with the parents.

Ideally, the parents will agree on a parenting plan. However, if they cannot reach an agreement, the court will develop a plan for them, based on the child’s best interests.

Sole Parental Responsibility

If shared parental responsibility is not possible, sole parental responsibility is an option. This means that one parent has the final authority to make decisions about the child, without needing the other parent’s input. The custodial parent is able to make both minor and major life decisions without consulting the other parent.

Sole parental responsibility is used if shared parental responsibility will be harmful to child. To determine whether sole parental responsibility will be in the child’s best interests, the court considers evidence of several factors, including:

  • Domestic violence,
  • Sexual abuse,
  • Child abuse,
  • Neglect,
  • Abandonment,
  • Drug or alcohol use,
  • Mental or physical health problems, and
  • The child’s preferences.

For sole parental responsibility to be ordered, it is not necessary that the noncustodial parent be convicted of any domestic violence or abuse offenses, as long as other evidence exists. In ordering sole parental responsibility, the court only needs to make a determination regarding the child’s best interests, and is not required to make specific findings regarding the factors.

In instances of sole parental responsibility, time sharing will be set so as to best protect the child or abused spouse from harm. If the parent has been violent, this may include no provision for time sharing at all, supervised time sharing, or very limited time sharing.

Under Florida law, both parents of a child have the right to access records and information about that child, such as school, medical, and dental records, and to talk to the child’s teachers and doctors. However, a judge may specifically order that a noncustodial parent not have access to these records and information.

If you are considering divorce or trying to determine child custody issues, an experienced attorney can help you to find the solution that is best for your family. Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.

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