West Palm Beach Child Custody & Parenting Plans Lawyer
West Palm Beach Attorney Experienced in Divorce Matters
Sometimes determining who gets custody of your children can be a contentious battle in a divorce. Disputes over custody often get emotional when former couples try to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed previously. I am William Wallshein, a West Palm Beach divorce lawyer with more than three decades of experience. After serving for five years in the state prosecutor’s office, I have dedicated my family law career to helping parents establish child custody arrangements and parenting plans that fit their lifestyles, and most importantly, their child’s lifestyle. I make sure my clients have the information they need and the legal representation they deserve to pursue child custody actions.
- Child Custody Evaluation
- Dependency Actions
- Parental Drug & Alcohol Addiction
- Parenting Plan
- Parental Abduction & International Travel
- Parental Alienation
- Parenting Plans & Domestic Violence/Child Abuse
- Parental Rights & Educational Choices
- Parental Rights & Religion
Developing Parenting Plans in South Florida
Courts in Florida rely on the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act to decide child custody issues that are in the best interest of the child. These laws set national guidelines for determining child custody cases. Courts in Florida establish both physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the actual place where the child will reside, while legal custody decides which parent is allowed to make important decisions for their child pertaining to medical care, education, discipline, and religion.
Parents may either have shared or sole custody of their children. Florida courts strongly prefer shared custody arrangements, formed as part of a time-sharing agreement, but they will award one parent sole custody when circumstances indicate that is what would be in the best interest of the child.
Parents in Florida can make their own agreements regarding parental responsibilities, known as parenting plans. These plans include time-sharing schedules that set out when each child will reside with either parent, including arrangements regarding weekends, holidays, and school vacations. Parenting plans also establish who has the primary decision-making power. Once parenting plans are executed, they are submitted to the family court for approval, which will determine its adequacy in addressing a child’s best interest for physical and legal custody.
Determining What is in the Child’s Best Interest
Sometimes parents fail to agree on parenting plans, especially when it comes to what custody arrangements should be made. In these cases, the court must decide whether shared or sole custody is appropriate. The court makes such determinations based on the best interests of the children and related factors, including:
- How long the children have lived in a stable environment
- Where both parents’ homes are located in relation to each other
- The parents’ moral fitness
- Each parent’s physical and mental health
- Parents’ ability to provide a consistent routine
- Parents’ ability to communicate with each other
- Evidence of domestic violence or abuse
- Evidence of either parent’s substance abuse
If a child is old enough, the court will also consider his or her preference and wishes in making its custody determination. Child custody cases are often complex, and if parents are unable to come to an agreement on their own, a court’s involvement can be a lengthy process. If you are unable to negotiate with your former partner, it’s important to consult a knowledgeable attorney who can help you get on the same page and figure out what’s best for your children.
Child Preference in Custody Proceedings
In Florida, custody determinations are made based on the child’s best interests. When the children involved are infants or very young, their parents and the courts will have to decide custody issues such as the child’s primary residence. But when children grow older, develop preferences, and are able to provide more input, their opinions are taken into account when determining parenting time. If you are involved in a custody proceeding in Florida, an attorney can help you reach an arrangement that is best for your family.
Child’s Best Interests
In Florida, custody proceedings involve the creation of a parenting plan, which includes a timesharing schedule that states where a child lives and how much time each parent may spend with the child. When parents cannot come to an agreement regarding the creation of a timesharing schedule, the court makes that determination based on the child’s best interests. To determine the child’s best interests, the court will consider several factors, one of which is the child’s preference, as long as the court believes that the child has the intelligence, understanding, and experience to develop meaningful opinions on the matter.
Intelligence, Understanding, and Experience
There is no set age at which a child will be old enough for his or her preference to be considered in custody matters. Rather, the judge has discretion to decide whether a child has the intelligence to make a choice, understands the decision he or she is making, and has enough experience with each parent to make sure the decision is educated and meaningful.
Courts have decided that a ten year old was too young for input to be considered, but have also decided that an eleven year old was sufficiently intelligent and articulate. The determination will depend on the individual child and the circumstances of each family.
The court must ensure that one parent is not unfairly influencing the child’s opinion by coaching the child to give certain answers. Courts must also make sure that the child is making a mature decision, rather than just rebelling against one parent.
The court will make an independent decision for every child, even for those in the same family. Courts will not assign custody of a young child to one parent simply because the child’s older siblings prefer living with that parent. Instead, the court must independently determine what would be in the young child’s best interests.
Testimony in Court
Neither parents nor attorneys can force a child to testify in court. In Florida, a child will only be permitted to testify if it absolutely necessary to hear the child’s testimony, or if there is an emergency. It is Florida policy to insulate children as much as possible from family law litigation.
However, to consider a child’s preference, the court must know what that preference is. To get the child’s preference, a licensed mental health professional or other expert can interview the child. That professional can then testify in court as to the child’s expressed opinions. A guardian ad litem, which is a person appointed by the court to represent a child’s best interests, may also speak to the child, then testify in court. Alternately, the judge may speak with the child in chambers, without the parents present. A court recorder must be present to write down the child’s statements.
Child Custody FAQs
Family Attorney Serving West Palm Beach Parents in Divorce Proceedings
Florida courts prefer that parents reach time-sharing agreements that are in the best interest of the child. This usually means that parents would be jointly responsible for caring for and spending time with their child. If parents are unable to agree on time-sharing arrangements, a court will consider various factors under Florida statutes to determine what kind of custody is in the best interest of the child. If you are trying to work out a child custody plan in West Palm Beach, an experienced family lawyer can help you negotiate and determine what is best for your child. My name is William Wallshein, and I will spare no effort in helping you continue to play a role in your child’s life.
What is the difference between physical and legal custody?
Physical custody refers to where a child will live. Legal custody refers to which parent has primary decision-making power, including determinations regarding a child’s medical care, religion, discipline, and education. Parents can have either shared or sole custody of their children. Courts prefer shared custody arrangements, meaning both parents split time and responsibilities with their children. Sole custody is granted in the rare cases when it would be in the child’s best interest.
What is a parenting plan?
Parenting plans are legally binding documents that describe the responsibilities and rights of each parent. They must state how parents will divide duties for daily tasks, as well as who is in charge of making important decisions regarding their children. These plans also contain a time-sharing schedule detailing which holidays, school breaks, and overnight stays will be spent with each parent.
Who pays child support when parents share custody?
Both parents are responsible for child support, even when custody is shared. A court calculates the amount of support that each parent must provide by using statutory guidelines that take into consideration how many children the parents have, the earning capacity of both parents, healthcare and daycare costs for the children, and how many overnights the children spend with each parent.
Is visitation affected if one parent fails to pay child support?
Child support and custody, or time-sharing, are separated from each other in Florida courts, except when it comes to calculations. Courts have other methods to enforce child support orders separate from visitation and custody. If a parent fails to pay child support, a court may choose to suspend his or her driver’s license or place a lien on his or her property, but it will not take away visitation rights.
Can my child choose who he or she wants to live with?
Courts take various statutory factors into consideration when determining who should get custody. One such factor is a child’s reasonable preference, if the child is deemed to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
Do any other relatives have custody rights?
Under Florida law, certain parents who are members of the military may designate a family member, including grandparents, stepparents, or a relative by marriage, to fulfill their custody responsibilities on their behalf. Grandparents generally do not have visitation or custody rights, however, since these are not viewed as essential to the best interest of the child. They may have rights in some limited circumstances.
Can a child custody agreement be changed?
If either parent experiences a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances after a parenting plan goes into effect, the parent can ask the court to modify the plan. Such circumstances include a loss of job or the onset of a disability. Modifications may be made only if they are found to be in the best interest of the child.
Consult a Dedicated West Palm Beach Divorce Lawyer
I am William Wallshein, a divorce attorney with over 30 years of experience practicing law, and over 25 years of that time has been spent assisting West Palm Beach parents with child custody agreements and other family law matters. I work tirelessly to make sure parents understand the legal process and find the right solution for their family. I help clients throughout Palm Beach, Martin, and Broward Counties, as well as elsewhere in South Florida. Please call my office at 561-533-1221 to schedule a free initial consultation, or contact me online. We take credit cards.
Legal Representation in West Palm Beach Custody Matters
If you and your child’s other parent are going through a divorce or trying to split time with your children, I can guide you through the process of settling child custody matters. My name is William Wallshein, and I am a West Palm Beach divorce attorney with 30 years of experience. I have assisted parents in and out of court in establishing custody agreements that are in the best interest of both parties, as well as the children involved. I represent clients throughout Martin, Palm Beach, and Broward Counties, in addition to the rest of South Florida. Please call my office at 561-533-1221 to schedule a free initial consultation, or contact me online. We accept payment by credit card.