Custody Contact

Child Custody, Contact & Relocation Law in Florida

Below are some general information and some issues & answers about child custody & contact & relocation issues in Florida.

Florida child support law has significantly changed recently and is having an indirect impact on contact schedules, although that was not the intent of the Florida legislature. Beginning January 1, 2011, a contact schedule that provides 20 percent or more of the overnights with one parent can qualify as enough contact to justify using the child support calculation that was formerly used when one parent had 40 per cent or more of the overnights with the child or children. (See “Child Support” pages of this site for more on effect of contact schedules on child support.) The amount of child support should not be a factor in determining what a contact schedule should be. Most family law judges agree that the first step in the process of making a contact schedule for a child or children is to determine what contact schedule will be in the best interests of the children, taking into account the age of the children, whether they are in school, the work schedules of the parents as that will affect drop off and pick up times, how far the children live from school and places of extra-curricular activities, etc.

All new Final Judgments of Dissolution of Marriages (divorces) and Paternity actions, and some modifications of old divorces and paternity cases, will have a requirement of a parenting plan and contact schedule to be included in the final judgment.

Florida has resisted the trend to order that one parent has “custody” of the child or children to the exclusion of the other parent. The first solution to the problem of making one parent feel excluded or to be perceived by the children as having less rights than the other parent was Florida judges usually gave both parents custody but designated one parent the “primary residential parent” and the other parent the “secondary residential parent.” Occasionally, one parent was awarded sole custody (as in cases where there had been a parent that was physically abusive to a child).

The emphasis was supposed to be on “residential,” but people shortened the term to “primary parent” and that put a stigma on the other parent and made him or her generally perceived by the world at large as “secondary” and the primary parent was perceived as the parent having “custody,” although both parents had equal legal rights to the children, unless those rights had been reduced by court order. Florida has now tried to correct that problem by doing away with these “primary” and “secondary” terms.

The contact schedules used to be called “visitation” schedules and the parent that “visited” was the “secondary residential” parent. Florida has thrown out all that language as being too negative on the parent that doesn’t have the children as much as the other parent. Now, with the required “parenting plan and contact schedule” that must be entered with a final judgment, there are to be no secondary parents who visit with their children, in Florida. Each parent is to be an important part of a child’s life from the child’s point of view. Florida’s legislature, judges and policy makers have got it right, finally. Now we need to keep the law on track.

For old and new cases, there is usually a good result if the children’s best interests are what determines the contact schedule. More Judges are looking favorably to 50/50 contact schedules, provided that the parents communicate well and live relatively close to each other.

Question: What does Florida’s Relocation Statute prevent someone from doing?
Answer: Florida’s Relocation Statute prevents a parent with minor children from relocating his or her permanent residence more than fifty (50) miles from the residence of the other parent, or from relocating his or her permanent residence out of the State of Florida, unless he or she has complied with the notice provisions of the relocation statute and has no objection from the other parent, or after having notice of an objection from the other parent, has obtained a court order that allows relocation.

Question: Who pays attorney’s fees if there is a court action regarding the relocation statute?
Answer: Generally, each party will initially pay his and her own attorney fees and court costs. Later, the judge may rule that one party has the ability to contribute toward the attorney fees and costs of the other party based on the need of one party and the ability of the other party to pay. The reason for the relocation is a factor in determining whether the relocation is granted. It may be related to the party moving to earn more income, so that party may well be able to pay the attorney fees of the other party.

This information is not to be used as legal advice.
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