Because custody disputes can become a serious form of stress for both parents and children, the courts, lawyers, and lawmakers have all done their best to make the process more efficient and helpful for families in recent years.
A debate in the state of Florida previously made headlines in the local St. Petersburg news when lawmakers were trying to encourage both parents to be equally involved in raising their children through legislation.
Lawmakers try to streamline the custody process
Over the years, there have been many proposed bills addressing shared parenting. There previously was a bill that required the courts to begin with the presumption that a minor child should spend approximately equal time with both parents following a divorce or separation in Florida, unless other evidence or specific concerns existed that would support deviation from this standard ruling. One caveat is that the bill would not require automatic reversal or review of existing custody agreements in the state, with the reasoning being that allowing old agreements to stay in place should help minimize additional administrative burdens on the courts if the law passes.
Advocates who support the bill stated that all available data shows children who have both parents equally involved in their upbringing universally do better in school and stay out of trouble. A custody attorney who was interviewed by the publication said that in approximately 40 years of dealing with disputes, she has noticed that the best outcome for the children is when parents actually work together. She believes that shared and balanced custody arrangements go a long way towards meeting this goal.
Some critics have expressed concerns that in practice, the law will force many parents back into court to make changes to custody plans that are already functional. They also point out that judges still ultimately have the discretion to make any custody arrangements that they believe to be fair and in the best interests of the minor child, regardless of the new presumption. A similar bill was vetoed a few years earlier by then governor Rick Scott.
Any relevant changes in the state’s custody laws would affect married, unmarried, or divorced couples in the same way.
As the story above implies, it is possible for custody to be decided without much debate in some situations. When parents are able to agree on custody issues, they can present their plan to the court and judge assigned to their case for approval. This can often save time and expense on legal fees, as well as, allow the child to continue to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, rather than limited access to one of them.
Custody hearings and the best interests of the child standard
When custody is disputed, the courts will get more involved and use the best interests of the child standard to determine how much custody time (time-sharing) each parent will have. This generally means that the parent who displays an ability to provide a stable environment with adequate resources for health and education may be given primary custody (majority time-sharing), where the other parent may receive less or limited visitation rights. One obvious problem related to this kind of contest is that the two parties involved will attempt to do everything they can to make the other parent appear deficient, which can turn ugly. Family law attorneys will often prepare their clients for a custody hearing with these issues in mind. Clients should be prepared for a worst case scenario if they have any serious problems in their past.
Preparation for the hearing
Many issues will come into play to determine how a suitable custody arrangement can be made to care for a child properly. Lawyers will usually ask their client to provide evidence and records related to things like doctor’s visits, performance in school, and daycare arrangements showing that the child is being cared for properly. It may also be possible to bring up any issues the other parent has had related to crime, substance abuse, or financial problems to show why one parent is more suitable than the other. Courts also try to minimize disruption, so changing schools, moving, or constant travel are usually frowned upon. This allows a young person to have a stable environment and develop ties to their community. Once the child is old enough, they may also be able to bring their own concerns to the attention of the court and express a preference for one parent or living situation under certain circumstances.
Get help from a lawyer in your area who is licensed in Florida
To speak with a family law attorney in the Saint Petersburg area about issues such as alimony, divorce, child support, or child custody, contact Yeazell and Sweet. The firm has provided superior representation to thousands of local clients over the years.