Child custody is often the most difficult issue parents must resolve when they live apart. The law values preserving both parents’ relationships with their children but that is often easier said than done.
If you are having a custody dispute, call a skilled family attorney immediately. Even if you and your co-parent are trying to reach a compromise, it is important to have legal advice to ensure a court will approve whatever arrangement you make.
A Fort Lauderdale child custody lawyer has significant experience guiding parents through custody negotiations and can help you create a custody plan that offers the best chance for your children to thrive.
Basics of Child Custody Arrangements
Custody refers to where the child is living. Many parents share custody and the children spend a significant time living with both. Even in those circumstances, one parent is the custodial parent. The custodial parent’s address determines where the children go to school and it is the address on their medical records and other official documents.
The parent who is not the custodial parent has timesharing rights, also known as visitation. Parents could share time 50/50, or one parent could see the children less often, such as every weekend or every other weekend. The parents must develop a parenting plan that describes in detail how the parents plan to share responsibility for their children.
If the parents cannot agree, a Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney can negotiate with the other parent’s attorney to create a plan or the couple could try mediation. Either of these options usually produces better results than leaving the timesharing arrangement to the Judge.
Custody and Being a Single Parent in Fort Lauderdale
An unmarried mother who gives birth is her child’s only legal parent. She is the only one with custody and timesharing rights and the only one with a legal obligation to support the child financially. The father can establish legal parental rights if both he and the mother sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity and submit it to the Florida Health Department of Vital Statistics.
The parents can sign the Acknowledgment any time before the child’s 19th birthday. If they do not do this and the father wants to have timesharing rights, he must go to court to prove he is the child’s father.
If the mother disputes that the child belongs to the man petitioning for paternity, the court will usually order a genetic test. If the test confirms the man is the father, the court will issue an order of paternity that legalizes his role. The man will have to pay child support and could ask the court for timesharing rights. However, a court will grant it only if it finds timesharing would be in the child’s best interests.
When is Sole Custody Appropriate?
Parents are often angry at their co-parents during a divorce or breakup and might insist on sole custody, which is called sole parental responsibility. A parent seeking sole parental responsibility likely wants the other parent to have no contact with the children and no say in how they are raised.
Although anger is often justified, the law does not support depriving children of their right to a relationship with both their parents. Florida Statutes § 61.13(2)(c)1 makes it policy to support a child’s relationship with both parents unless one of them is proven unfit. In almost every case, a court will order shared parental responsibility. That means that the parents will have to work together to decide about the children’s healthcare, religion, education, and other important topics.
A Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney could argue the other parent is unfit if there is evidence such as a conviction for child abuse, a severe untreated substance abuse problem, or a similar situation. However, even when courts give sole parental responsibility to one parent, they almost always allow the other parent timesharing. Someone with concerns about the children’s safety while with the other parent could seek supervised visitation.
Consult with a Fort Lauderdale Child Custody Attorney Today
Custody issues are often challenging to resolve but parents should work together to find a custody arrangement that works for everyone. High-conflict custody battles can be damaging to children.
A Fort Lauderdale child custody lawyer will support you through the process. Schedule a free consultation today with The Florida Probate & Family Law Firm.