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How Does a Court Determine Child Custody or Timesharing

In Florida, the determination of child custody and time-sharing is a process governed by both long-standing principles and recent legislative updates. This guide focuses on how courts determine these decisions, prioritizing the welfare of the child.

The Best Interests of the Child 

The cornerstone of custody and timesharing decisions is the child’s best interests, a principle enshrined in Florida Statute Section 61.13(2)(c).

Courts consider various factors, including but not limited to:

  • Each parent’s ability to maintain a loving, stable environment.
  • The child’s home, school, and community record.
  • The mental and physical health of both parents.

This comprehensive evaluation ensures decisions are made with the child’s welfare at the forefront.

A New Chapter: Presumption of Equal Time-Sharing

2023 brought a significant shift with the introduction of a presumption in favor of equal (50-50) timesharing, aiming to balance parental involvement in the child’s life. This new starting point doesn’t negate the need to scrutinize the child’s best interests. Instead, it adds a layer, encouraging a shared parenting approach unless evidence suggests another arrangement would better serve the child’s needs​​.

Simplification of Modification Standards

The law now allows for modifications to time-sharing arrangements with proof of “substantial and material changes” in circumstances, removing the previous requirement for these changes to be unforeseen. This change acknowledges the dynamic nature of life and family circumstances, offering a path to adjust parenting plans as situations evolve​​​​.

Geographical Flexibility

Recognizing the practical challenges of parental relocation, the law treats a move of more than  50 miles away from a child as a significant change, potentially justifying a modification in the time-sharing plan. This approach addresses the logistical aspects of co-parenting and strives to maintain meaningful relationships between the child and both parents​​.

Detailed Evaluations and Written Findings

Courts are required to conduct detailed evaluations of all relevant factors and provide written findings to justify their decisions on time-sharing plans. This ensures transparency and accountability in the decision-making process, with each judgment carefully tailored to the child’s best interests​

For your reference, we have outlined the 20 factors to be considered by the Court according to Florida Statute Section 61.13(3) (2014):
1. The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.

  1. The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.
  2. The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.
  3. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
  4. The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.
  5. The moral fitness of the parents.
  6. The mental and physical health of the parents.
  7. The home, school, and community record of the child.
  8. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
  9. The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things.
  10. The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.
  11. The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child.
  12. Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child.
  13. Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.
  14. The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.
  15. The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.
  16. The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child, which is free from substance abuse.
  17. The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.
  18. The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.
  19. Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.


The Key Takeaway

With Florida’s family law evolving, staying updated on legal changes is essential. These updates, like the presumption of equal time-sharing and simplified modifications, aim to prioritize children’s well-being, facilitating informed and balanced decisions for their future.