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Time-Sharing or Child “Custody” in Florida

An issue has recently been addressed in the courts of another State that no longer arises in Florida, whether it is possible for parents to have joint custody or for there to be “co-domicilliary” parents — the phrase used in the litigation in Louisiana where this recent case arose, Hodges v. Hodges.

Florida in it’s family law rules and statutes has for the most part done away with the concepts of “custody”, or designating who is a primary residential parent.  In Florida, there is a determination of “parental responsibility” and then of what “time-sharing” each parent will have.  Time-sharing is the time — which days, nights, holidays the child(ren) spend with each parent; and parental responsibility is who makes decision about the significant areas of a child’s life — for example, education, religion, school.

Florida law is clear in laying out that it is important for a child to have a relationship with both parents:

“It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.”  Florida Time-Sharing Statute — Section 61.13(2)(c)(1).

Although the statute also provides that there is no presumption for or against any specific time-sharing schedule, specifying a public policy in favor of frequent contact with both parents does, in a way that has an impact in family law litigation, establish a presumption in favor of time with both parents.  The final decision regarding time-sharing, however, is based on the best interests of the child.  The time-sharing statute — Florida Statutes Section 61.13(2)(c)(3) lists 20 factors for the Court to consider in making a decision about time-sharing, with the last factor being “any other” relevant factor the Court needs to consider.  The first factor listed, and something that is always relevant in time-sharing litigation, is the capacity of each parent to encourage and facilitate the child’s relationship with the other parent — part of this and something listed in this same statute section is the demonstrated capacity of each parent to follow the time-sharing schedule and be reasonable when changes are needed.

The other side of this issue, though, is that when a parent’s contact with the child is not good for the child, because of domestic violence, substance abuse or other important issues in the case, the Court can and will restrict contact, require time-sharing to be supervised, or prohibit the parent’s contact with the child if needed.  For supervised visitation, the level of supervision can range from supervision by a family member, to therapeutic supervision by a licensed therapist, on-site at a local facility.

For parental responsibility Florida Statutes section 61.13(2)(c)(2) provides that the Court shall order shared parental responsibility, i.e. shared decision making by both parents, unless that would be detrimental to the child.  Shared decision making means the parents are supposed to consult with each other and jointly make decisions.  There can be a range of communication options between parents — e.g. telephone, email.  Domestic violence is a factor the Court must consider in making decisions about parental responsibility and time-sharing.



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