How Will Florida's New Child Custody Laws Affect You?
Published: 2009-11-16  

Florida law governing what was formerly known as primary and secondary child custody and the concept
of visitation changed significantly on October 1, 2008. Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes now highlights
the importance of both parents in a child's life, introducing the concepts of parenting plans and
time-sharing. Based upon these changes it is important that you speak with an experienced family law
practitioner before finalizing any decisions regarding your legal matter.

The New Law's Significant Changes
Prior versions of Florida's civil practice and procedure laws established primary and secondary child
custody of minor children. They also set forth the criteria for supplying the non-custodial parent with
visitation time. Modifications were made to give both parents the opportunity to have a more meaningful
relationship with their children, without having one of them perceived as a lesser parent.

An excerpt from the law regarding parenting plans gives some insight into the purpose of the revisions:

"Any parenting plan approved by the court must, at minimum, describe in adequate detail how the
parents will share and be responsible for the daily tasks associated with the upbringing of the child, the
time-sharing schedule arrangements that specify the time that the minor child will spend with each
parent, a designation of who will be responsible for any and all forms of health care, school-related
matters, other activities, and the methods and technologies that the parents will use to communicate
with the child."

The new laws not only remove the stigma associated with only having ?visitation? rights, but they also
require a parenting plan, drafted to protect the best interests of the child, to be approved by the court prior
to implementation. The recent revisions have also provided additional factors that will be considered
when determining the best interests of the child. Some of these are:

Division of parental responsibilities
Mental health, physical health and moral fitness of the parents
Length of time the child has lived in a stable environment
Reasonable preference of the child (if the court decides that the child is mature enough to have her or
his wishes considered)
Any past domestic, sexual or substance abuse
Prior child endangerment or child abuse allegations
Several more factors that the court deems relevant
Time-Sharing During the Divorce Process
Provisions must be made to care for minor children of the marriage while a dissolution is proceeding.
The court has the authority to help facilitate a reconciliation of the parents by seeking the assistance of a
counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, minister, priest, rabbi or other expert, or to take additional action in
the best interests of the children. When proactive reconciliation measures fail, however, a temporary
parenting plan must be established.

Parenting plans during the divorce process are established in the same way as permanent ones.
Time-sharing arrangements need to be implemented immediately after the separation of the parties, not
only to limit the impact a divorce has on minor children, but also to preserve the relationship between the
?non-custodial? parent and the children.

Parenting Plans and Time-Sharing Schedules for Unmarried Parents
Under Florida law, when children are born out of wedlock the father does not automatically have parental
rights. Paternity must be established through either a paternity agreement form signed by both parties or
a court order. Furthermore, when a father is seeking to establish his paternity, he must file a paternity
claim with the Florida Putative Father Registry stating his willingness to support the child.

Once paternity has been established, each parent has the legal right to seek child support, petition the
court for a parenting plan and time-sharing arrangement, and have input on legal decision-making. As
unfair as it may seem, if a father does not have legally recognized paternity, he does not have the right to
exercise parental rights through court proceedings. A putative father may, however, have whatever
participation in the child's life that the mother allows.

How Do the New Laws Address Parental Relocation?
Legally speaking, relocation is a change in primary residency that takes a parent more than 50 miles
away from his or her current location for at least 60 days. Parents may agree to modify their parenting
plan and time-sharing agreement if one of them needs to relocate, but some action must be taken in
order for the court to approve the changes. The parents must sign an agreement that reflects their
consent, sets forth a time-sharing schedule for the non-relocating parent and describes any needed
transportation to facilitate the time-sharing.

If one parent disputes the relocation, a petition to relocate must be brought by the other parent. If not,
then the parent relocating the child without proper authorization could be found in contempt of court and
compelled to return the child.

Objections can be made to a relocation petition, however, even by a father whose paternity has not been
legally established. Even though putative fathers have no parental rights recognized under Florida law,
the provisions governing objections to relocation are not specifically limited to parents. The law states
that the other parent or "any other person entitled to access to or time-sharing with the child" can provide
a specific factual basis supporting the reason to not grant a petition for relocation. The objection must
set forth the amount of participation and/or involvement that the objector has in the child's life.

Navigating the processes set forth by Florida's revised child custody laws can be extremely difficult. If you
are seeking time-sharing of a child or the implementation of a parenting plan, the advice of an attorney
with in-depth knowledge of these matters can be invaluable.
The Law Office of                                           
Kathryn S. Robbie
We Understand the Importance of Family

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