How will a judge make a decision about custody (parental responsibility)?
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:
- Whether the parents have shown that they can or will provide the child with a consistent routine involving discipline, bedtime, meals, etc.;
- The mental and physical health of the parents;
- The home, school and community record of the child;
- The willingness and ability of each parent to encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent, to honor the time-sharing schedule, to be reasonable when changes are required, and to communicate with and back up the decisions of the other parent;
- How parental responsibilities will be divided up after the case is over, including how much of the responsibility will be handled by someone other than the parent(s)(i.e., a nanny);
- The ability and willingness of each parent to consider and act upon the child’s needs (as opposed to the parent’s own needs) and to be involved with child’s friends, teachers, extracurricular activities, doctors, etc.;
- The moral fitness of the parents;
- Whether the parents have and will keep the children out of the court case and not bad-mouth the other parent;
- How long the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the benefit to the child of not changing that situation;
- How much traveling the child would have to do if spending a lot of time with parents who live far from each other;
- Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, neglect or abandonment or evidence of providing false information to the court about these issues;
- Who was the primary care-taker of the child;
- The ability of both parents to meet child’s development needs;
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the judge believes that the child is mature / intelligent enough to form a preference;
- Whether the parents have or will provide a home that is free of drug use; and
- Any other factor that is relevant.1
You need to be prepared to give as much information as possible to help the court evaluate these and all the other factors regarding the welfare and interests of the child that the court may consider. This means gathering information the child’s father as well as about yourself.
For more information on how evidence of domestic violence can affect who gets parental responsibility and time-sharing, go to Can a parent who committed violence get custody (parental responsibility) or visitation (time-sharing)?
1 F.S.A. § 61.13(3)