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How do Florida courts decide on child custody cases?

Child custody decisions in Florida courts are based on several factors. Failure to prepare for these decisions can result in a long-lasting and unfavorable outcome for a parent.

Courts may order a shared custody arrangement known as time-sharing. Under this arrangement, one parent is awarded physical custody while the other parent receives generous visitation rights. Florida courts prefer custody arrangements granting both parents liberal time with their children, when appropriate.

In reaching these decisions, as with all issues involving children in family law, the best interests of the child are the paramount issue. The court may take the child's wishes into account if the child is sufficiently mature, intelligent, experienced and has sufficient understanding.

Courts will consider factors such as each parent's willingness to encourage and support the child's relationship with the other parent, to comply with a time-sharing schedule and to react reasonably when changes are needed to this schedule.Other considerations include each parent's ability to place their child's needs above their own and the stability of the child's home environment. Involvement with the child's school and extracurricular activities is also important.

Courts will also review the parent's mental, physical and emotional health. Scrutiny will be placed on any domestic or sexual violence and child abuse, abandonment or neglect.

Relocation may be granted if both parents execute a written agreement consenting to relocation and containing a description of the time-sharing schedule for the parent who is not relocating and any other person who is entitled to access or time-sharing with the child and the transportation arrangements for access or time-sharing. Otherwise, the parent must serve a petition as soon as possible on the other parent containing the address, phone number and description of the new residence, the date of the intended relocation and an explanation of the reasons for moving.

A custody order may be modified if a parent or third party can demonstrate circumstances that substantially, materially or unexpectedly changed. The child's best interests must be served by the modification.

Child custody litigation or negotiations requires preparation and knowledge. An attorney can assist a parent with this issue that has such a monumental impact on families.

Source: The Spruce, "Child custody in Florida," By Debrina Washington, Accessed April 18, 2017

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