Know the Laws: Florida
UPDATED May 27, 2016
Please consider getting help from a lawyer in your area before proceeding with court action. To find a legal services organization in your area, please go to the FL Finding a Lawyer page.
A “parenting plan” is a document created to establish the roles of each parent when it comes to making decisions about your child's education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being. The parenting plan must:
In creating the plan, the parents' relationship, any history of domestic violence, and other relevant factors must be taken into consideration. A parenting plan can be developed and agreed to by the parents and approved by the judge. However, the judge might decide to make his/her own parenting plan if s/he does not approve of the plan agreed to by the parents or if the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan. In these cases, the judge will create the parenting plan after hearing evidence and testimony from both parents.**
* F.S.A § 61.13(2)(b)
** F.S.A § 61.046(13)
In Florida, the courts have moved away from using the term “custody.” Unlike in the past, neither party will be “awarded custody.” Instead, the courts will assign "parental responsibility" for the children, either shared or sole, and will provide for a timesharing arrangement. The responsibility for raising a child ends upon the child's 18th birthday or upon graduating from high school - by age 19.
Sole parental responsibility is when one parent makes decisions regarding the child without input from the other parent.* This includes minor decisions that need to be made on a day-to-day basis (i.e., the child’s bedtime) as well as all major decisions (i.e., the school the child attends).
Sole parental responsibility will be given to one parent if the judge decides that shared parental responsibility would be harmful to the child. In making a decision regarding what is harmful to the child, the court will consider evidence of domestic violence or child abuse, neglect or abandonment. In those cases, the judge will make arrangements for time-sharing that will best protect the child or abused spouse from further harm, which may mean that no time-sharing is ordered.** For additional information on visitation rights for a parent who has committed violence, see Can a parent who committed violence get custody (parental responsibility) or visitation (time-sharing)?
* F.S.A. § 61.046(17)
** F.S.A. § 61.13(2)(c)(2)
Shared parental responsibility is when both parents have full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child. The parents must talk to each other and jointly make decisions about the child's welfare (including primary residence, education, religion, medical and dental care).* Therefore, in cases where there is domestic violence -- and the abuser has the power and control-- this type of shared parental responsibility likely will not be a good option.
The judge will order shared parental responsibility unless s/he finds that shared parental responsibility would be harmful to the child. Any evidence of domestic violence or child abuse (even if there is no criminal conviction and/or no injunction for protection against domestic violence) will be considered by the judge to be evidence of harm to the child. The court may consider the desires of the parents and may give one parent the ultimate responsibility for particular aspects of the child's welfare or may divide the responsibilities between the parents.**
* F.S.A. § 61.046(16)
** F.S.A. § 61.13(2)(c)(2)
A “time-sharing schedule” is a timetable that must be included in the parenting plan that gives specific times (including overnights and holidays) that the child will spend with each parent. It can be developed and agreed to by the parents and approved by the court. If the parents cannot agree, the schedule will be created by the court after both parents present testimony and evidence.*
* F.S.A § 61.046(22)
If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised. If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).
However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice BEFORE you start a court case to ask for supervised visits. We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.
In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure. Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time -- and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised. Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.
In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate. To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to FL Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.
WomensLaw.org would like to thank Aliette Hernandez Carolan, Esq. for her help in reviewing this information.