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While any divorce has its stressful moments, for those with children, the process presents even higher stakes.
Child custody, visitation rights, and child support are among the issues a court must decide on during a divorce proceeding.
It is imperative that parents who are going through a Florida divorce understand how courts make child custody determinations. And given the fact that issues of child custody are often hotly contested, it is similarly important for parents to retain an experienced Pensacola child custody lawyer.
At the law firm of Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon, we have been helping parents navigate thorny child custody issues for over 15 years.
With our help, you can rest assured that you are in caring and capable hands.
Florida Child Custody Laws
The first thing to know about Florida’s child custody laws is that the term “custody” isn’t used. Instead, courts refer to custody as “time-sharing.”
Thus, a parent who would have primary custody in another state has “majority time-sharing.” Similarly, if parents share joint custody of their children, Florida courts refer to this as “equal time-sharing.”
While a time-sharing agreement refers to the amount of time each parent spends with their children, it doesn’t cover a parent’s decision-making authority. In Florida, this is referred to as “parental responsibility,” which is a separate determination.
Often, if parents have an equal time-sharing agreement, the court will order shared parental responsibility.
However, if the court determines that it would be detrimental for the child for the parents to have shared parental responsibility, it may award one parent sole parental responsibility.
Who Makes Decisions About Time Sharing?
There are a few ways in which a time-sharing arrangement can come to be. The first is through an agreement between the parents.
While some parents rely on informal agreements, this is not recommended because it leaves parents with nothing to enforce if the other parent stops honoring the agreement. Thus, most couples who can work out the details of a time-sharing agreement put the agreement in writing.
Even if you and your soon-to-be-ex can agree on time-sharing, the court must approve the arrangement. This is because Florida child custody judges must always do what is in the best interests of the child.
Another option for parents who cannot immediately reach an agreement is to engage in mediation.
Mediation involves both parents and their respective attorneys sitting down with a neutral mediator. The mediator listens to each parent’s side of the story and helps the parties reach a resolution. If both parents agree, they can present the agreement to the court.
If reaching an agreement with your child’s other parents is out of the question, the court will make the ultimate decision regarding time-sharing and parental responsibility. Again, the court’s decision must be based on what is in the child’s best interests.
How Do Courts Come up with Time-Sharing Plans?
The following factors are among those a court considers when determining what is in a child’s best interests:
- Each parent’s willingness to foster a positive relationship between the child and the other parent;
- Each parent’s ability to provide a safe and stable home for the child;
- Each parent’s physical and mental health;
- Each parent’s ability to meet their child’s needs;
- Each parent’s moral fitness to raise a child;
- Each parent’s ability to ensure a consistent routine for their child;
- Whether either parent has a history of domestic or family violence;
- How well the child has adjusted to their home and local community;
- The preference of the child (for older children); and
- The child’s age, needs, and abilities.
Additionally, the court can consider any other relevant factor. For example, a judge may, but is not required to, consider one spouse’s infidelity when making child custody determinations.
Once a court orders a time-sharing and parental-responsibility plan, the order is final as long as the circumstances remain the same.
However, either parent can request the court modify a child custody order if they can show that the circumstances have materially changed since the court’s order. The parent requesting a modification of child custody must also prove that the modification is in the child’s best interest.
What to Look for in a Pensacola Child Custody Lawyer
Hiring a lawyer to represent you in child custody matters is a major decision. You may start off by typing “child custody attorney Pensacola FL” into the search bar. Or you may reach out to friends who have been through the process before.
However, before you decide to hire a child custody lawyer, it is essential that you get to know them a bit.
Before hiring a lawyer, you should consider asking the following questions:
- How long have you been handling child custody matters?
- Do you focus exclusively on divorce and child custody cases?
- How can I reach you if I have a question about my case?
- Do you have any references?
- Will you be the attorney handling my case?
At Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon, we have a long history of helping parents with all types of child custody issues, both during a divorce and in subsequent requests for a modification. We also make ourselves available for you whenever you need to speak with us.
Contact the Pensacola Custody Attorneys at Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon Today
If you have children and are in the process of going through a divorce, it is imperative that you work with an experienced Pensacola custody lawyer. At Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon, we understand how important your children are to you, and we will do everything in our power to pursue your desired outcome.
We offer all prospective clients a free consultation, during which we will explain the process, answer your questions, and discuss how we can help.