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Determining Time Sharing

Time sharing addresses the parenting time allocation between parents. In Orlando, Tampa and throughout Florida, the term “custody” is no longer utilized. Instead, Florida refers to custody as “time sharing.” For example, instead of terms such as “primary custody” and “joint custody,” Florida uses terms such as “majority time sharing” and “equal time sharing.” In Florida, both parents will have “time sharing” with the child, but the amount of time each parent spends with the child will vary. Both parents will have time sharing with the child unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child. Evidence that a parent has been convicted of a misdemeanor of the first degree or higher involving domestic violence creates a rebuttable presumption of detriment to the child.

Often, parents will agree upon a time sharing schedule on their own. However, if the parents cannot agree, the court will order a time sharing schedule based upon the best interests of the child. The court makes this determination by evaluating a number of factors meant to take into consideration “the wellness and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family.” Fla. Stat. § 61.13. Lawyers often refer to these factors as the "Best Interest Factors."

What are the Best Interest Factors that the Court Considers?

  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.
  2. The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.
  3. 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.
  4. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
  5. 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.
  6. The moral fitness of the parents.
  7. The mental and physical health of the parents.
  8. The home, school, and community record of the child.
  9. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.
  17. The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.
  18. 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.
  19. The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.
  20. Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule. *This factor is a catch all, in which the court may consider anything else that it deems to be relevant to child’s best interests.

What Other Methods May the Court Use to Determine Time Sharing?

When parents are unable to agree on a time sharing schedule, the court may order a social investigation by a mental health professional to help guide its determination about the child’s best interests. The purpose of the study is to better provide the court with relevant information about the child and parental situation that may not have otherwise been revealed in court. Fla. Stat. § 61.20.

Additionally, to determine the best interest of the child, the court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to act as “next friend of the child, investigator, or evaluator, but not as attorney or advocate." The GAL is endowed by the court with the "necessary powers, privileges, and responsibilities" to promote the child's best interests. This includes the power to investigate the allegations affecting the child and interview the child, witnesses, or other persons with relevant information about their welfare. Fla. Stat. § 61.401-03.

 

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