Most parents living in central Florida are aware that the custody of their children will be one of the most important and potentially contentious issues if they should decide to end their marriage or relationship. Yet, the process for making this decision is sometimes obscure. In order to achieve the best outcome for all parties, the parents should make an effort to understand the basic elements of the legal process that will determine child custody, visitation rights and child support.
The first step is preparation of a parenting plan by the parents. All couples with children who are seeking a divorce in Florida must agree upon and write a plan that specifies which parent will have custody, when visitation will occur and the terms of support payments. If the parents cannot agree upon such a plan, these issues will be presented to the court in a motion for child custody made by one or both parents. The court will consider evidence submitted by both parents, including any expert testimony from health care professionals. If the couple is not married, the court may order DNA testing to determine paternity. In the end, the court will make an order that serves the best interests of the child.
The “best interests of the child” is a very broad term that permits the judge to consider virtually any factor that may affect the child’s well-being. The court can order sole custody, where one parent has exclusive physical custody, joint custody where the parents divide time with the child or legal custody where one parent has the right to make decisions about the child’s education, health care and similar matters even though the other parent has physical custody. Evidence of domestic violence could have a significant effect on the judge’s decision.
Child custody is a complex issue that can involve legal questions, medical issues and other factors that may affect the child’s future welfare. Anyone who is concerned about how a court may look upon the issue of child custody may want to get more information about family law options.