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Florida Child Custody Reform 2013

There has been a lot of press lately about efforts to reform Florida’s alimony laws.  As discussed on this blog, Senate Bill 718 (which primarily deals with alimony reform) passed the Florida House by a wide margin (85 Yeas versus 31 Nays) and, since it had also passed the Florida Senate, will be going to Governor Rick Scott for his signature.

Update: Governor Scott Vetoes Senate Bill 718

One area that may be even more significant, but has not received as much coverage, is language in Senate Bill 718 that reforms Florida’s child custody laws.  Currently, there is no presumption in favor of or against any child custody schedule, including a 50/50 split custody (known as equal time-sharing).  Senate Bill 718, however, adds language to section 61.13 of the Florida Statutes that seems to make a strong presumption in favor of equal time-sharing.

The text of the child custody provisions of Senate Bill 718 is reproduced below (deleted language is stricken while new language is underlined):

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Treatment of Children in Hillsborough County Family Law Cases

When a person files for divorce (or other family law action involving children) in Tampa, he or she will be provided with a temporary standing order which outlines how he or she should treat children during the matter.  The temporary standing order provides the following guidance:

The safety, financial security, and well being of the children involved in this case are the judge’s primary concern. It is the law that, except in certain rare circumstances, both parents will share parental responsibility for all minor children involved in this case. The law requires parents to share the children’s time and to participate together in making all important decisions concerning the children. The law expects parents to put aside their feelings and cooperate on all decisions involving the children. The following guidelines apply:

A. Children have a right to a loving, open and continuing relationship with both parents. They have the right to express love, affection and respect for one parent in the presence of the other parent.

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Pinellas County’s Standing Notice for Family Law Cases with Minor Children

When you file a family law case in a Tampa Bay court that involves children (such as divorce, paternity, or modification of a parenting plan), you will get a standing notice or order which prescribes how parents should treat one another and their children.

For the most part, parents that utilize common sense and common courtesy should have no problem sticking to these standing requirements. Below are excerpts of the requirements in Pinellas County:

1. CONTACT WITH BOTH PARENTS; SHARED PARENTING:

1.1. Contact with both parents is generally in the children’s best interests. Children are entitled to “frequent and continuing contact with both parents when the parents separate or divorce” as a matter of law.

1.2 The “primary residential parent” has an “affirmative obligation to encourage and  nurture a relationship between the children and the alternate residential parent.” A parent who restricts access of the children to the other parent and who does not encourage a relationship between the children and the other parent, perhaps should not be designated the “primary residential parent, ” as this is not acting in the children’s best interests and is not following the law.

1.3. In nearly all cases, the court orders “shared parental responsibility” of the children, which means co-parenting. The parents must confer with each other and agree on parenting decisions. Both parents must participate in all parenting  decisions and work out their time sharing schedules. If the parents cannot agree on any issue, then the court will decide.

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In A Florida Child Custody Case, Does It Matter That I Am Gay?

I have been seeing more clients who are coming out of the closet either during or following their divorce (or during a child custody case not related to divorce). Each client has asked whether the Florida court is going to take into consideration his or her sexual orientation.

Though, in determining child custody matters, a Florida judge must take into consideration the “moral fitness” of the parents (see Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3)(f)), the court may not make a custody determination based solely on whether a parent is gay. In fact, a parent’s sexual orientation should not be a determining factor unless it has a direct negative impact on the welfare of the child.

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