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Does My Child Have A Say In Custody?

So, you are thinking about divorce. You, like many parents, may wonder whether your child has a say in the custody (also known as time-sharing) schedule. Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, your child might have have some input in what your timesharing schedule should look like.  However, a child under the age of 18 does not have the final say in a time-sharing schedule.

How Your Child Can Have A Say In Custody

Whether your child has a say may depend on whether you choose to litigate your case, or instead, participate in alternative dispute resolution like collaboration or mediation. In most litigated cases, a judge will not allow a child to participate in the proceedings. However, if you proceed with collaborative practice or mediation, your child may be able to participate if you and your spouse agree. If so, your child may attend a portion of the mediation or collaborative meeting. The mediator or collaborative facilitator will help determine the appropriate forum for the child to express his wishes and whether you and your spouse should be present.

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Custody: What Does The Law Consider?

Florida Statute § 61.13 lists the factors that the law will consider when developing a child custody, also known as time-sharing, schedule. One major factor is whether you will encourage a close and continuing relationship between the children and the other parent. The law considers your histories and personalities. Section 61.13 examines whether you will be reasonable when changes are required. The law also considers your ability to keep each other informed regarding important matters regarding the children. Florida law frowns upon parents who disparage the other in front of the children or bring the children into their disputes.

Parental Responsibility and Child Custody

Section 61.13 also discusses parental responsibilities and whether third parties will have decision-making authority. For example, if you work eighty hours a week, it may not be realistic for you to have custody the majority of the time. Another consideration is whether you will be able to participate in the children’s school and extracurricular activities.

Another factor is whether you have demonstrated the capacity and disposition to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the children as opposed to your own needs or desires.

It is important to maintain stability as much as possible for the children.  Accordingly, the law considers the length of time the children have lived in a stable, satisfactory environment. Often times, if a temporary schedule is going well, the law suggests that it may be best to keep that custody schedule in place, especially if the child is tied to that home, school, and community.

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2016 Florida Alimony Reform Bill Vetoed

The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that Florida Governor Rick Scott has vetoed SB 668, a bill that was intended to make large-scale changes to the state’s alimony and child custody laws.

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For the first time, the bill was set to create alimony guidelines that calculated a presumptive range for the amount and length of spousal support.  Further, the bill would have directed judges, when establishing custody schedules, to start out with the premise that each parent should have approximately an equal amount of time with children.

It was that second point that seemed to be the sticking point for Governor Scott.

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Face-to-Face Mediation

I have noticed lately that there is a trend among divorce mediators in Tampa Bay: keep spouses separate from one another.  This is known as “caucus”-style mediation, where the spouses are kept in separate rooms from the very beginning of mediation, and the mediator travels back and forth between the rooms relaying information and offers.

There is a good reason why many great mediators prefer caucus-style mediation.  As divorce is a highly-emotional process, spouses can set each other off when they are facing one another, and negotiations can descend into argument and cease being productive.

I can see where caucus-style mediation may be appropriate for some families, but it is not my preferred method.

acordover_logoRather, when I act as the neutral mediator, I prefer to practice face-to-face mediation.

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Sample Christmas Custody Schedules

If you are divorcing in Tampa Bay and you have children, Florida law requires that a parenting plan be created.  The parenting plan outlines parental responsibility (decision-making authority) along with a time-sharing (custody) schedule.

The time-sharing schedule should not only address where the children stay during the school year and in summer months, but also how holidays, such as Christmas, are to be handled.

Below are some sample Christmas time-sharing schedules:

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Sample Florida Child Custody Schedules

In each Florida family law case (such as divorce or paternity) that involves the custody of a child, Florida law requires that a parenting plan be established.  One of the most important elements of a parenting plan is the child custody schedule, now known as a “time-sharing” schedule.

Family Law Tip:  You should never let a judge decide your child’s time-sharing schedule.  A judge does not know your family dynamics and bases such decisions on very limited information, and usually the judge is seeing parents, especially divorcing parents, at the worst time in their lives.  Instead, you and your co-parent should use a private form of dispute resolution, such as collaborative family law.

As I tell clients who come to my Tampa office, there are many different types of time-sharing schedules.  Below are some samples provided by the 12th Judicial Circuit (which includes Sarasota and Manatee Counties).  The parent who is listed in a box is the one whom the child will be staying with overnight:

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