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Child Custody Report Card

When it comes to promoting shared child custody, is Florida doing everything it can to ensure the emotional health and well-being of kids? At the end of last year, the National Parents Organization compiled a “Shared Parenting Report Card.” The first national study of its kind, the report card was a large-scale attempt to provide “a comprehensive ranking of the states on their child custody statutes, assessing them primarily on the degree to which they promote shared parenting after divorce or separation.”

How did Florida fare? While it wasn’t ranked among the worst states, Florida also wasn’t among the best, either. In order to understand why our state might not have received the best marks for shared parenting in child custody arrangements, we should take a closer look at the language of the law that governs custody.

Child Custody and Time-Sharing Laws in Florida

Under Florida Statute Section 61.13, the court determines all issues related to parenting and time-sharing of minor children “in accordance with the best interests of the child.” You may have heard about this standard before. In short, courts will look at a variety of different factors to determine what’s in a child’s best interest, and the court will rule according to its determination.

What’s in the best interest of children in Florida when it comes to shared parenting? The statute also emphasizing that it’s Florida public policy that “each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved.” In addition, the state encourages parents “to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.” Indeed, the court orders that parental responsibility be shared for minor children “unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.”

In what kinds of situations would a court determine that shared parental responsibility might be detrimental to the child? The Florida statutes list some of the following situations as those that could work against shared parenting:

  • Evidence that one of the parents has been convicted of domestic violence;
  • Evidence that one of the parents engages in conduct that poses a threat to the life, safety, well-being, or physical, mental, or emotional health of the child;
  • One of the parents is incarcerated and has been determined to be a violent career criminal, a habitual felony offender, or a sexual predator; and
  • One of the parents abused, abandoned, or neglected the child.

Each situation has its own set of facts, and the language of the law simply provides the basis from which the court will analyze a specific case. Given that Florida appears to encourage shared parenting, why did it only receive a “C” grade on the national report card?

Florida Receives “C” Grade on National Report Card

In giving Florida a “C” grade, the National Parents Organization cited a couple of points in the statute that could favor shared parenting more clearly. The report card did point out that “Florida has a strong statutory presumption of shared parenting responsibility,” citing the specific language from the statute. However, the report also highlighted some areas for improvement:

  • The presumption of shared parental responsibility in Florida “does not explicitly create a presumption concerning physical custody.” In other words, while the statute does emphasize that parents should make shared decisions concerning their child’s interests and welfare, the statute could do more to emphasize that parents also should share physical custody.
  • In situations where temporary custody orders are in place, the Florida statutes don’t “explicitly provide for shared parenting.”

Do you have questions or concerns about child custody in Florida? Don’t hesitate to contact an experienced Tampa family law attorney about your case. The attorneys at Samantha L. Dammer can help you today.

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