“Best interest of the child” is the standard used in Florida’s “custody” disputes. Note, that the word custody is in quotation marks because in Florida the term custody is outlawed and replaced with parental responsibilities and time-sharing.
It is Florida’s public policy that all decisions concerning your children should be made in their best interest. This means that the primary goal in making parental decisions and scheduling time-sharing should be to ensure your child’s happiness, emotional and mental wellbeing, and to give the child a sense of security.
What you think is best for your child can be very different than what your child’s other parent thinks. While it is a given that most parents want the best for their child/children, it could be difficult to set aside the feelings you may have for your child’s other parent when defining what would be the best for your child during separation and divorce. While the “best interests of the child” can be difficult to measure, some factors which may determine best interests include:
- Physical and mental health of each parent;
- The age of the child, if the child is old or mature enough;
- The child’s wishes or preferences;
- The need of a stable home environment;
- The child’s ability to adjust to changes in school or community;
- The relationship of the child with siblings and other members of the household;
- The support and opportunity to keep a relationship with extended family members;
- For special needs children, the way each parent addresses those needs;
- Cultural and religious considerations;
- Lack or excessive discipline by a parent;
- Emotional abuse or neglect by a parent;
- Patterns of domestic violence, and
- Indication of parental drug, alcohol or child/sex abuse.
Helping your child maintain a close and loving relationship with both parents is generally in the child’s best interests, but the practicality of this type relationship can be challenging. Especially among parents who had a contentious divorce or break-up. Keep in mind that the choices you and your child’s other parent make now, will affect your child’s development and your relationship with your child now and in the future.
In case you and your child’s other parent are incapable to come up with a mutually adequate arrangement regarding how parental responsibilities will be shared, a Florida judge would step in and make those decisions for both of you. You may believe you are obviously the better parent, but a Florida judge is not as likely to differentiate one parent as “good,” and the other as “bad,” with the exception of particular cases where a parent has made very negative life choices, like the use of drugs or alcohol, incarceration or instances of domestic violence. Even in cases where one or more of those factors could be present, the court may decide that contact with both parents will remain in the best interests of the child. Remember, it is always the best for parents to work out their differences and make decisions based on what is truly the best interests of their child rather than letting a judge make those decision for you. If that is impossible for you and your child’s other parent, your Florida judge will likely consider the following factors as outlined in Fla. Statute 61.13(3) when deciding on parental responsibility:
- The moral fitness of each parent;
- The parent who will be more likely to allow the child to have frequent, continuing contact with the other parent;
- The parent who will have the ability to offer a more stable home environment, including to provide the child’s basic needs such as food, clothing and medical care;
- The emotional bond between the child with each parent;
- The amount of time the child has been in a stable home environment;
- The job security of each parent, and if his/her job requires frequent travels;
- The child’s history regarding home, school and community;
- The proposed home of each parent after the divorce or break-up;
- Each parent’s level of knowledge of their child’s likes, dislikes, schedule, friends, medical and school information, etc.;
- The parenting tasks typically performed by each parent;
- The ability of each parent to provide a consistent schedule for the child;
- The extent parenting responsibilities will be delegated by a third party, and
- Any evidence of domestic violence, child abuse or child neglect.
Parents going through a divorce with children, a paternity action, or a modification of timesharing proceeding should be aware of these factors before having a judge decide what is in the best interest of their child. A judge must consider these factors when establishing a parenting plan and the results sometimes are not to the parents liking. Remember that angry and stupid mistakes can be detrimental to your case. It is important to ask yourself, what would a judge think about your actions or conduct? Next time you engage in irresponsible conduct, ask yourself whether it is in the best interest of your child or children and whether it will have a negative impact on your case. One big piece of advice, please do not send derogatory text or email messages to the other parent. Also, do not engage in written name calling. Anything you write may be evidence that can be used against you.
At Seff & Capizzi Law Group, we regularly assist clients and provide valuable information for those that need assistance in understanding how to approach this particular situation in their own lives. Every situation is different, so the judge may consider other additional factors in deciding custody and parental responsibilities in your case.
If you need assistance with creating or modifying a parenting plan, please call us at (954) 920-9220. We have over 40 years of experience and offer a free consultation. Click here for more information about our family law practice and how Seff & Capizzi can help.