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Divorced parents with their son visiting lawyer.

Many, if not most states, use “child custody” to refer to the physical care and control and decision-making authority of a parent over a child. When parents either divorce, separate, or are unmarried and don’t live together, courts will generally determine who has physical and legal custody of the minor children. Often, the parent who does not get primary physical custody will normally have a visitation schedule.

Florida law does not typically speak of child custody and visitation rights in those terms. Instead, the legislature has instituted parental responsibility and sharing plan to describe custody arrangements.

Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility normally concerns the decisions made for the child. Typically, one or both parents assume or receive the legal authority over matters such as:

  • Enrollment in school
  • Services rendered by the school to the child, such as individualized education plans or tutoring as may be needed
  • Child’s participation in extracurricular activities such as band, sports, choir, or clubs
  • Medical treatments, such as surgeries, therapies, rehabilitation, and prescriptions
  • Attendance at a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, or other matters concerning the child’s religious upbringing and training
  • Providing general care to the child

Time Sharing

Time-sharing functions as physical custody and visitation of the children. A plan by the court or the parents’ agreement governs:

  • What days a parent spends each week with the child
  • Where the child spends birthdays or holidays
  • Where the child will stay

The Florida Department of Revenue provides a standard parenting and time-sharing plan for agreement by the parents in IV-D cases. The schedule includes alternating Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and winter and spring breaks.

Deciding the Parenting Plan Terms

The “parenting plan” encompasses the parental responsibility and time-sharing terms with regard to the children.

By statute, Florida law prefers that the children frequently, regularly, and continuously interact with both parents and that parents equally share in parental responsibility. To those ends, neither parent comes into a domestic proceeding with an automatic advantage merely by being the father or mother.

Instead, the general parenting plan gives equal parental responsibility to both parents. That means you and the other parent both get to decide and, to the extent possible, agree on educational, extracurricular, religious, medical, and other matters involving your child or children.

The judge may grant sole parental responsibility to one parent where shared responsibility would be “detrimental to the child.” Such a circumstance may arise where the parent who is being denied parental responsibility:

  • Commits an act of domestic violence, such as assault, kidnapping, sexual assault, stalking against the other parent
  • Commits a crime resulting in the death of or injury to a member of the family or household
  • Commits a sexual offense (if at least age 18 years old) and the victim was at the time of the offense either under age 18 years old or believed by the offender to be under age 18 years old
  • Is either imprisoned or expected to be imprisoned for a significant period of the minor child’s time before turning 18 years old

If you’re contesting the other parent’s ability to have responsibility or physical custody of the minor child, you may need evidence of the parent’s unfitness to assume such responsibility or share time. This can take the form of drug use, abuse of alcohol, intoxication, or living in an unsafe or unsuitable environment for the children. You or your attorney may want photographs or video of the other parent’s home to show the absence of safety measures and the presence of exposed or loose wires, unsanitary conditions, loose floors, and broken doors or windows.

Child Support

The parents’ legal duties to their children include financial support. The amount of child support for which each parent is responsible is calculated based upon the Florida child support guidelines. These principally take into account the number of children, the needs of the children, and income. The sources of income from which child support may be calculated include:

  • Wages and salaries
  • Overtime compensation
  • Bonuses
  • Profits from a business
  • Social Security payments
  • Disability payments
  • Alimony
  • Dividends
  • Interest from savings accounts and bonds
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Workers’ compensation benefits
  • Net rental income
  • Alimony payments ordered in the current case or received from a prior marriage

Under a process called “imputation,” courts may consider as income amounts that a parent could earn (even if not working) where the parent chooses not to work but is able to work. This prevents parents from intentionally depressing income so as to avoid child support.

The child support guidelines consider net income. As such, parents can deduct from gross income items such as taxes withheld, required monthly payments for union dues and retirement contributions, payments for health insurance (other than for the minor child), and court-ordered child support payments. The Florida legislature provides a table for the combined minimum parental obligation based on the parents’ combined monthly net income and number of children.

Contact a Tampa Divorce Lawyer Today.

If you are facing a divorce and need legal advice on child custody, contact a Tampa Divorce Lawyer today.

Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn. With the right approach and the representation of an attorney experienced in the nuances of Florida’s divorce laws, you can be confident in the outcome of your case. At Robert Sparks Attorneys, we take these matters seriously.

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