Know the Laws: Florida
UPDATED December 2, 2013
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 plan must include a description of who will be responsible for any and all forms of health care, school-related matters, and other activities. The plan must also have a time-sharing schedule for the parents and child and describe the methods and technologies that the parents will use to communicate with the child* (such as email, phone, etc.).
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.
Generally, both parents can get sole/shared parental responsibility and time-sharing in Florida. The court will not show a preference for the mother over the father. It is the public policy in Florida to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents and that both parents should be encouraged to share the rights and responsibilities and joys of child rearing. Unless the court determines that it would be harmful to the child, the court will order shared parental responsibility and will order both parents to spend as much time as possible with the child(ren).*
Note: A member of the child's extended family may be granted temporary or concurrent custody of a child but only under limited circumstances. For more information, see I am a member of the child’s extended family (grandparent, sibling, etc.). Can I get temporary custody of the child?
* F.S.A. § 61.13(2)(c)(1)
Sometimes. It depends on the circumstances of the case. If the parent has been convicted (found guilty in criminal court) of certain domestic violence crimes that are either first degree misdemeanors or felonies or is in prison due to circumstances that are grounds for terminating that person's parental rights, the judge must assume that it would not be in the child’s best interest to give parental responsibility and time-sharing to that parent. However, that parent has the right to present evidence to try to change the judge’s mind and prove that it would not be harmful to the child to have parental responsibility or time-sharing.
Even if the parent has not been convicted of any offense of domestic violence or child abuse and even if you don’t have an injunction for protection against domestic violence, the judge will still consider any evidence of domestic violence or child abuse when deciding what type of parental responsibility or time-sharing the abuser will get. Evidence of abuse is viewed as evidence of harm to the child.*
If the judge decides to order visitation (time-sharing) by the parent who committed violence, you can ask that the visitation be supervised or very limited. The judge may do so if s/he believes it is necessary to protect your safety and the child’s safety. However, if the judge does not believe that you or your child remains at risk from the abuser, the judge may order unsupervised time-sharing.
If you feel there is a continuing risk of violence to you or your child, or if new incidents happen during the visitation, you may be able to apply for an injunction for protection against domestic violence to help keep you safe.
* F.S.A. § 61.13(2)(c)(2)
It is unclear whether a grandparent will be granted time-sharing (visitation) in court. The Florida law that allows judges to give grandparents visitation over the parents’ objection has been declared “unconstitutional” by various courts Florida.* We suggest that you talk to a lawyer in your county for advice – you can find one on our FL Finding a Lawyer page.
* See, for example, Saul v. Brunetti, 753 So.2d 26 (Fla.2000), Von Eiff v. Azicri, 720 So.2d 510 (Fla.1998), Beagle v. Beagle, 678 So.2d 1271 (Fla.1996)
Possibly. If you are an extended family member of the child (a brother, sister, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, step-parent, etc.), there are two types of custody petitions that you may file.
Temporary custody is when you have legal custody over the child for a specific, period of time and during that time, you (not the parents) have decision-making power for the child (i.e., you have the right to consent to all necessary medical and dental care, to get copies of the child's records, to enroll the child in school, etc). You may file a petition for temporary legal custody of the child if:
Temporary custody can granted over a parent's objection. If one or both of the parents object to you having temporary custody, you have to prove that the child's parents are unfit to provide the proper care and control of the child because the parent has abused, abandoned, or neglected the child. If you do get temporary custody, the court can order visitation rights to the parent(s) if it is in the child’s best interests to do so.*1
Concurrent custody is when you and the parent(s) both have custody rights to the child for a specific, temporary period of time.*2 Concurrent custody does not eliminate or lessen the custodial rights of the child's parent(s) and they can get physical custody of the child back at any time. Concurrent custody can only be granted when both parents agree to it - if one parent objects, you cannot get concurrent custody.*3
You may file a petition for concurrent custody of the child if:
Note: Either a temporary or concurrent custody can entitle you to collect child support.*5
* F.S.A. §751.02(1)
*1 F.S.A. § 751.05(3)(b) & (4)(b)
*2 F.S.A. §751.011(1)
*3 F.S.A § 751.05(3)(a)
*4 F.S.A § 751.02(2)
*5 F.S.A. § 751.05(5)(b)
Yes. A putative father (a man who believes he is the father but cannot prove it because the mother is absent) who is caring for a child whom he believes is his, may file a petition to determine paternity and he can ask the judge to issue an order that establishes a temporary legal custody relationship between him and the child during the proceeding. The court will likely order a DNA test* and then enter an order creating a legal relationship between the father and the child, award child support, if applicable, and time-sharing for the mother, if applicable.
* F.S.A. § 742.12
How you file for custody (parental responsibility) will depend upon the circumstances of your case.
If you are married but are involved in a divorce proceeding in Florida, parental responsibility will be determined in the divorce proceeding. If you are married and have not begun a divorce, you would file in the circuit court where the child lives.
If you are not married, you may file a petition to determine paternity. The court will order DNA testing, enter a parenting plan dealing with parental responsibility and creating a time-sharing arrangement and award child support. This can be done in the circuit court in the county where the child lives. However, there can be pros and cons to establishing legal paternity - you may want to talk to a lawyer about the pros and cons of filing to establish paternity or filing for custody BEFORE you file.
The Florida Courts website has many of the relevant forms that need to be filed on their website.
Also, if you are filing a petition for an injunction for protection against domestic violence, you can ask for temporary custody of your child in your petition. However, any custody order that you get would expire when the injunction expires.
Note: If you want to modify (change) a parenting plan, you may file in the circuit court in the county where either parent and the child reside or in the circuit court in which the original order was entered.*
* F.S.A. § 61.13(2)(d)
Generally, you must file in the "home state" of the child. The "home state" is the state where the child has lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the child custody proceeding is started. If your child is less than six months old, the home state is the state where the child has lived from birth. This means that if you and your child recently moved to Florida, you generally cannot file for custody in Florida until you and your child have lived here for at least six months. Until then, Florida courts do not have jurisdiction (power) to make a child custody determination. For the first 6 months that you are living with the child in Florida, either you or the other parent could start a custody action in the state that your child most recently lived in for at least six months.* However, if a case is started in the former state where you lived, then you would likely need permission from the judge in that state to move to Florida with the child, which can be difficult to get.
However, there are exceptions to this “home state rule” described above. In some cases, you can file for custody in Florida when the child and at least one parent have "significant connections" to Florida (aside from physically being in the state) and substantial evidence is available in Florida concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships. Usually, however, you can only do this if no other state qualifies as a home state or if the home state has agreed to let Florida have jurisdiction.** This can be complicated. If you think this applies to your situation, please talk to a lawyer. Go to our FL Finding a Lawyer page.
* F.S.A. § 61.514(1)(a)
** F.S.A. § 61.514(1)(b)
You do not need a lawyer to file for custody (sole or shared parental responsibility). However, with the help of a lawyer, it may be easier for you to gather and present the information you will need to convince the judge of your position on what the parenting plan and time sharing schedule should be. Also, if the other parent has a lawyer, it will be more difficult for you to present your case. For free legal assistance and legal referrals go to our FL Finding a Lawyer page.
You may ask for temporary custody (parental responsibility) of your child when you file a petition for an injunction for protection against domestic violence in Florida.* The clerk of court will provide you with a petition form that includes a section to complete if you want the judge to make a temporary parenting plan where you can request that the abuser’s time-sharing be limited, prohibited, or supervised.** However, parenting plan and time-sharing provisions granted with an injunction expire with that order.* For more information on how to get an injunction for protection against domestic violence in Florida, please see our Injunctions for Protection Against Domestic Violence page.
* F.S.A. § 741.30(5)(a)(3) & (6)(a)(3)
** F.S.A. § 741.30 (3)(k)
Possibly. If you have come to Florida with your child because you, the child, or a sibling of the child is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse, you can apply for temporary emergency custody in a Florida court.* If there is already a child custody order from another state or there is an ongoing custody case in another state, any temporary custody order issued by the Florida court would be valid for the period of time that the judge believes that it would take you to return to the original court to try to modify (change) the original order.**
Getting temporary emergency custody can be difficult to do. We strongly recommend that you get help from a lawyer if you are considering filing for temporary emergency custody. Go to FL Finding a Lawyer. For information on what state is the "home state," please see Where can I file for child custody? (Which state has jurisdiction?)
* F.S.A. § 61.517(1)
** F.S.A. § 61.517(3)
In making a decision about parental responsibility, the judge will have the child’s best interests as the main consideration. These are some factors that the judge will consider in order to determine what is in the child’s best interests:
Yes. A custody (parenting plan) order will contain provisions for child support. In making an award of child support, the court will consider the incomes of the parties and apply the Child Support Guidelines (pursuant to section 61.30 of the Florida Statutes). The expenses of day care and health insurance will be included in the calculation. If a child has special needs, the court may consider increasing the payment based on the child’s needs. To review these guidelines, please see the FL Statutes page.
Most likely, yes. The law says that both parents have the right to access records and information relating to his/her child, including, but not limited to medical, dental and school records. This includes the right to talk to the child's doctor or teacher as well as looking at the written records. The only way to keep the other parent from being able to access those records is if the judge specifically denies the parent that right as part of court order, such as in an injunction for protection against domestic violence* or as part of the parenting plan
Remember: most records will include your child's home address and phone number. Therefore, if your child lives with you and you are trying to keep your address confidential from the abuser, or if there is any other reason that you feel that access to those records would put you or your child in danger, be sure to explain this to the judge and ask that the abuser's rights to access the child's records be taken away. If the judge agrees to include this in your order, you might want to give a copy of the order to your child's teachers and doctors so they know not to give the abuser the records. If the judge does not agree to restrict the abuser's access, you might want to ask the doctors and teachers if you can use a PO Box as the mailing address in the records.
* F.S.A. § 61.13(2)(c)(3)
No, you cannot refuse to honor the other parent's visitation (time-sharing) rights because s/he failed to pay the child support that the court ordered. If you refuse to honor the time sharing in the order, the court can order extra time to the other parent to make up for the lost visitation time. In addition, the court could punish you in the following ways:
* Fla. Stat. § 61.13(4)
If the other parent violates your court-ordered rights in your parenting plan, you may file a petition to enforce your existing court order and ask the court to punish the parent for the violation. The court may punish the parent by ordering one of the other remedies listed in the prior question.*
* Fla. Stat. § 61.13(4)
Yes. In a custody (parenting plan) proceeding (including a modification proceeding), if the judge believes there is substantial evidence of a risk that one party may violate the parenting plan and time-sharing schedule by removing the child from the state or country, the judge can order that the parent in question:
There are many factors that the judge will consider in determining whether any of the above-listed security measures are necessary and additional documents that the accused parent may have to provide to the court.** You can find the actual language of the law on our FL Statutes page. Note: There is an exception for domestic violence victims. If you are a victim, and the other parent asks the judge to order these measures against you, you might be exempt (excused) from some of them if you can prove you are a victim (through a current injunction for protection against domestic violence, for example).*** Please seek the advice of a lawyer regarding this matter. If you need assistance in finding a lawyer, go to our FL Finding a Lawyer page.
* Fla. Stat. § 61.45(1)
** Fla. Stat. § 61.45(2)-(4)
*** Fla. Stat. § 61.45(7)
Because custody (parenting plan) is decided in the best interests of the child, an order is never permanent. If you have a custody (parenting plan) order already in place, you may petition the court to make changes to it (modify it). However, to change a custody order, you generally need to prove that there has been a "substantial change in circumstances" since the original custody determination and that it is the child's best interests to change the parenting plan. Furthermore, the substantial change must a material (important) change and something that was not reasonably envisioned at the time of the original custody order.*
If a court in Florida issued the child custody order (parenting plan) that you want to change, you may file the modification petition in the circuit court in the county in which either parent and the child reside or the circuit court in which the original order was issued.** A request for a change in a custody order (parenting plan) can be very complicated. If you want to change a custody order (parenting plan), we recommend that you seek the advice of a lawyer. If you need help in finding a lawyer, you can find one on our FL Finding a Lawyer page.
To find the location of the circuit courts in FL, go to our FL Courthouse Locations page.
* Wade v. Hirschman, 903 So.2d 928 (2005)
** F.S.A. § 61.13(2)(d)
Under Florida law, a parent who wants to relocate with his/her child has to follow specific steps. “Relocation” means a change in location of your primary residence that is at least 50 miles away, and for at least 60 consecutive days -- this could be within the state of Florida or in another state. (Note: this does not include a temporary absence from the principal residence for purposes of vacation, education, or the provision of health care for the child.)*
To petition the court for permission to relocate, the steps to follow are below. (However, if the other parent will agree to the relocation in writing, you may not need to go through these steps. See, instead, I want to relocate with my child and the other parent agrees. What do I do?)
First, the law requires that you go to court and file a “Petition to Relocate with a Child” and serve it upon the other parent, and every other person entitled to access to or time-sharing with the child. You should also keep an original copy for yourself. This “Petition to Relocate with a Child” must include:
If the other parent or anyone else entitled to access or time-sharing files a response objecting to the petition to relocate, the judge will hold a hearing or trial where you will have to convince the judge that it is in the child’s best interests to relocate and you will have to get permission from the court before you can relocate. If the other parent does NOT file a response objecting to the petition to relocate, you will still have to get an order from the judge but the judge will generally enter an order that reflects the changes you proposed in the petition. This will be done without a court hearing.**
Note: For information on how to properly prepare and serve this Petition to Relocate, or how to properly serve an objection to the other parent’s petition to relocate, please contact the courthouse in your county and/or talk to a lawyer who specializes in custody matters in Florida. If you need assistance in finding a lawyer, you can find free and paid lawyers on our FL Finding a Lawyer page. Also, if you are a victim of domestic violence, the organizations listed on our FL State and Local Programs page may be able to refer you to a lawyer or another organization that will be able to assist you.
* Fla. Stat. § 61.13001(1)(e)
** Fla. Stat. § 61.13001(3)(a)
*** Fla. Stat. § 61.13001(3)(e)
If the other parent agrees to the relocation, you can draw up a written, signed agreement with the other parent (and with anyone who has access to or a time-sharing schedule for the child) that: