May 7, 2021

What is Child Custody in Florida?

By Natalie Kay.

Many people believe they understand the meaning of child custody and the effect of such upon their children. Surprisingly, this verbiage is often misunderstood. There is no such thing as custody of children in the state of Florida.

Parenting in Florida is governed by Fla. Stat. § 61.13. The non-financial aspects of parenting are divided into two (2) sub-categories, time and decision-making. The time a child spends with parents is known as “time-sharing” or “parenting time”. The decision-making is referred to as “parental responsibility”. Both of these aspects are merged together in a legal document called a parenting plan. How parents engage in parenting decisions is a product of either a court-ordered parenting plan or that which is agreed to between the parents. In fact, Fla. Stat. § 61.13(2)(a) provides that under certain circumstances if the child is not located within the state of Florida, a Florida Parenting Plan can still be created, adopted, or approved by the court “if it appears to the court that the child was removed from this state for the primary purpose of removing the child from the court’s jurisdiction in an attempt to avoid the court’s approval, creation, or modification of a parenting plan.”

So what is a parenting plan?

Simply stated, a parenting plan is a contract between parents that governs all aspects of co-parenting. Depending upon the age of your child or children, it may be the directive that governs your child’s and your life for up to eighteen (18) years. The parenting plan is in writing and, if agreed upon, signed by both parties, and approved and adopted by a Judge, based upon the best interests of the children. Accordingly, it is unique to each family. The parenting plan includes but is not limited to:

  • school related decisions
  • school boundary designations
  • time-sharing between parents
  • health care decisions
  • daily tasks required for parenting
  • on occasion religious decisions
  • the amount of contact between the parents and the child or children
  • the type of contact between the parents and the child or children
  • children’s extracurricular activities

A Florida parenting plan can be as detailed and expansive as the parties choose. At a minimum, the parenting plan is required to contain a detailed adequate description of:

  • how the parents will share and be responsible for the daily tasks associated with the upbringing of the child
  • the specific time-sharing schedule for time during the school year and school breaks
  • who will be responsible for health care and school related matters
  • the address to be used for school-boundary determination and registration
  • who decides the children’s participation in outside of school or after school  activities
  • the methods and technologies used to communicate with the child or children

Can a court make parenting decisions for a parent?

It is very unusual that the court will act as a third parent or the tiebreaker in decisions that parents cannot jointly make regarding their minor children. However, if parents have joint decision-making (also referred to as shared parental responsibility) and they are not able to reach their decisions with unanimity,  then the court can designate one parent as the “ultimate” decision-maker over certain aspects of the child or children’s lives, such as educational, medical or other social aspects. Contrary to popular belief, a parenting plan is not modified just because parents do not get along. In order to obtain a permanent change or modification of a parenting plan, a substantial, material, and unanticipated change of circumstances must exist and the change must be in the best interests of the minor children.

Another commonly misused and misunderstood concept is that parents are entitled to equal time-sharing with their children. While it is the public policy in Florida that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate, and that parents are encouraged to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing, there is absolutely nothing in Florida law that states that parents are entitled to equal time with their children. All time-sharing schedules are anchored to the children’s best interests.

To learn more about parenting plans, time-sharing, and parenting responsibility, feel free to contact our Family Law Attorneys for an initial consultation. 

Natalie Kay is a Partner at Kelley Kronenberg, focusing her practice on Family and Marital Law.

Contact Natalie Kay at:
Phone: (800) 975-8225

DISCLAIMER: This article is provided as a courtesy and is intended for the general information of the matters discussed above and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Neither Kelley Kronenberg, nor its individual attorneys or staff, are responsible for errors, omissions and/or typographical errors – always seek competent legal counsel.