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How Child Custody in Florida Has Changed to Level The Playing Field for Moms and Dads

By Jose Medina, Esq. | Family Law

Apr 28

"Custody" is no more in the state of Florida.

What happened to custody?

Oftentimes we meet a new client, and the new client tells us “I want full custody.” But what is full custody? The new client wants to make all the decisions regarding the children or wants to reside with the children the majority of the time.

But here’s the thing, there is no “custody” anymore. As of October 2008, numerous changes were made to Florida Statutes, including the end to “custody.” One parent no longer has custody.

Instead, both parents are seen as equals. This is a substantial change because prior to 2008, Florida applied the “tender years doctrine” under which it was believed that only a mother could properly care for children and it was presumed that the mother should receive “custody.”

Today, there is no longer a presumption that favors one parent over the other. Instead, there is a determination of parental responsibility and time-sharing.

Types of parental responsibility

1. Shared Parental Responsibility: Both parents must work together to make important decisions regarding their child.

2. Sole Parental Responsibility:  One parent can make decisions for the child without having to consult the other parent.

3. Hybrid Responsibility: Where the parents can have shared parental responsibility with ultimate decision-making regarding certain aspects of the child’s life.

For example, a schoolteacher might have ultimate decision-making regarding the child’s education, or a doctor might have ultimate decision-making regarding the child’s health.

If that is the case, then the parents must confer to try to reach a decision together; but in the event, they are unable to agree, then the parent with ultimate decision making can make certain decisions without the other parent’s approval. In essence, the parent with ultimate decision-making is the tie-breaking vote.

The elimination of old labels

In addition, there is a determination of time-sharing. The time-sharing schedule outlines how the parents will share their time with their child. Prior to 2008, there was a “primary residential parent” and a “non-custodial parent.”

These labels have been eliminated. Instead, now parents are encouraged to co-parent as well as encourage and foster relationships with the other parent. The time-sharing schedule will describe which days the children sleep at each parent’s home, where the children will be exchanged, and the time for the exchange.

We’ll discuss this further when we examine Parenting Plans.