It is no secret that divorce can be a complex and stressful process. Relationships involving children can come with their own unique situations, however. While most people typically think of child custody matters as a portion of divorce proceedings, custody proceedings are a completely separate matter. In fact, the focus of the court is primarily on the child and the child’s parents. As such, marriage, or even divorce, are not necessary in order to hold a custody hearing. Detailing custody arrangements through the court can be a complicated process for all involved and can provide unnecessary stress to both the parents and the children involved.
Custody Determinations in Florida
Before looking to the different types of custody arrangements one might establish in a child custody proceeding, it is important to first look at the nature of custody arrangements in Florida. As with any other jurisdiction within the United States, making a decision that is based on “the best interests of the child” is the primary concern of a court in a child custody proceeding. Throughout the custody hearing, the focus is solely on what benefits the child, as opposed to any benefit or relationship a parent might have with a child.
While the term can seem vague and nebulous, Florida Statute 61.13 provides certain factors that should be considered when determining the best interests of the child. Such factors include:
- The moral fitness of the parents
- The ability of each parent to act upon the child’s needs over his or her own needs
- The home, school, and community record of the child, and
- The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child.
While Florida courts do focus on the best interests of the child, much like any other jurisdiction within the United States, the terms used to define custody differ from the majority. Typically, there are two types of custody, which are known as legal custody and physical custody. Whereas legal custody entails the decision-making rights of a parent, such as choosing which school a child goes to, medical treatment for a child, and other life-impacting decisions, physical custody entails how much time a parent will spend with a child.
While Florida does not use the terms legal or physical custody, it does use two very similar concepts in their place. The first concept is the parenting plan, which details the responsibilities of each parent in caring for and providing for the child or children. The second concept is that of a timesharing plan, which fills the role of physical custody. As with physical and legal custody, a parent may have responsibilities or rights listed in a parenting plan without having any time with the child set out in the timesharing schedule, and may even have time in the timesharing schedule without having any rights or responsibilities laid out in the parenting plan.
Timesharing Custody Arrangement
One of the trickier issues in a custody matter, however, is that of timesharing. Under Florida Statute 61.13, it is the public policy of the state to provide each parent with an equal amount of time with the child, barring any justification for an unequal timesharing schedule. While an equal timesharing schedule is presumed to be in the best interests of the child, there are situations in which that is not the case. Going through the court, however, is not the only way an individual can establish a timesharing schedule. Parties to a custody hearing can also make an agreement and have the court incorporate that schedule into the final order. As with any other custody matter, the details of a timesharing schedule will be based on the best interests of the child.
Joint Timesharing Schedule
The typical timesharing schedule in Florida can be referred to as a joint timesharing schedule. In a joint timesharing schedule, both parents retain equal time with the child. The schedule may provide one parent with holidays, weekends, and vacations. While a joint timesharing schedule is presumed to be in the best interests of the child, however, there are many circumstances in which that is not the case. In addition, unless the parents are living nearby or in the same county, maintaining such a schedule can be difficult for both the parents and the child.
Sole Timesharing Schedule
The next type of timesharing schedule is known as a sole timesharing schedule. In this type of schedule, only one parent gets continuous time with the child. While the other parent will not be able to live with the child, the schedule may provide for some visitation time, either supervised or unsupervised, with the child. Other things to consider in a sole timesharing schedule are whether the other spouse will get any time to phone the child, or whether the other parent will be provided with updates or notices of events in the child’s life, such as school events or medical emergencies. While this schedule can provide more stability for a child, it can also strain the parent-child relationship with both parents, since one might be seen as trying to interfere with the other parent’s relationship with the child, while the other parent is rarely seen at all. There are times when such a schedule is necessary and in the best interests of the child.
Rotating Timesharing Schedule
The final type of timesharing schedule is known as a rotating timesharing schedule. This form of timesharing schedule is most like a joint timesharing schedule in that each parent gets an equal amount of time with the child. The only difference is that instead of providing each parent with equal time by balancing out holidays and weekends, the timesharing plan will provide the parents with alternating custody periods. For example, the schedule could alternate custody on a weekly basis, where the child spends one week with one parent and the next week with the other, or could even alternate on a monthly basis.