Child custody relates to the legal relationship between parents and children, including the right of the parents to make decisions for the child and the parents’ obligation to care for that child. Parental responsibility for a child is usually shared by both parents. A father is given the same consideration as the mother in determining parental responsibility. In the end, the issue of which parent the child will reside with is determined based on what is in the best interests of the child.
What does "best interests of the child" mean?
This phrase governs all aspects of child custody and visitation. The best interest of the child requires spiritual and moral teachings, a wholesome moral atmosphere, and suitable educational facilities. Determining the best interests of a child depend on many factors, including:
- Child's age and gender
- Child’s mental and physical health
- Mental and physical health of parents
- Lifestyle and other social factors of parents
- Emotional ties between parent and child
- Parents ability to provide food, shelter, clothing, and medical care
- Quality of schools in a given locale
- Child's preference
- Ability and willingness of one parent to foster a healthy relationship between the child and other parent
- Stability of the environment
A child’s welfare is presumed to be best served by the care and custody of the natural parents, unless there are clear, convincing, and compelling reasons to the contrary. Nevertheless, a parent’s right to custody is not absolute and a parent can be refused custody based on what the court decides is in the best interest of the child. When a child is very young, full custody is usually awarded to one parent with reasonable rights of visitation to the other, because it is usually detrimental for a young child to be shifted frequently from one household to another. However, special circumstances sometimes justify the court’s award of split custody. These circumstances include the childrens’ ages, the length of the period of custody, any disruptive influences created by alternating custody, including the distance that must be traveled, the attitudes of the parents toward each other and how the children may be affected by those attitudes. When the parents do not love their children more than they hate each other, the court must intervene to protect the children.
Most parents agree to a custody plan that is then approved by the court. If the parents do not agree, then the court will look at Florida Statutes for a list of factors for the Court to consider when crafting a plan on its own. The plan lays out parental responsibility for matters such as:
- How parents will share the daily tasks of raising a child
- A time sharing schedule
- Which parent is responsible for issues related to school and health
Sometimes one parent will want to revise the custody order. An order that changes the custody arrangement does not have to prove that the prior custodian is unfit. A modification of custody arrangements might be conditioned by the court on a variety of considerations, ordering the change in custody to coincide with events such as termination of a school year. All custody orders are temporary in nature and can be changed any time the circumstances warrant a need for a change. The trial judge has broad judicial discretion in determining what is in the best interest of the children. An appellate court will not overrule the judge’s decision unless there is a clear showing of an abuse of judicial discretion.
Do you need a family lawyer?
If you are going through divorce or annulment where children are involved or are thinking of making modifications to child custody or visitation rights, it would be wise to consult with an experienced family lawyer. Your local Broward County lawyer will help explain your rights in the process and will work to protect your relationship with your child.