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In Florida family law cases, court orders need to be obtained to establish and change child custody, visitation and/or child support. In order for court orders to be obtained the appropriate legal documents must be filed with the court, a hearing is scheduled, and notice of hearing is served on the other party allowing him/her sufficient time to prepare and file a response. These hearings occur in open court in front of a judge. However, prior to a court hearing, some cases are scheduled for mediation, in which the parties meet with a neutral third party (the mediator) in an effort to reach a mutually agreeable plan with regards to the custody, visitation and/or child support.
What are the different types of custody & visitation orders?
Custody of Children- There are two types of custody in Florida: legal and physical.
What is Legal Custody?
Florida legal custody determines which parent has the authority to make decisions regarding the child's health, safety, education, and welfare. If only one parent can make these decisions alone, this is called sole legal custody. When both parents have the right to make these decisions, this is called joint legal custody.
Joint legal custody means both parents should cooperate on decision-making. However, either parent has the power to make these decisions alone. Sole legal custody means only one parent can make decisions and obtain information from the child's school, doctor, counselor, etc.
What is Physical Custody?
Physical custody determines where the child or children will reside. Sole physical custody means the child or children live with one parent and may visit the other parent. Joint physical custody means the child or children reside with both parents, often on a fairly equal basis. However, even if they have joint physical custody, if one parent will have the child more than half of the time, then that parent is referred to as the primary custodial parent for tax and other purposes.
Keep in mind that judges have discretion when it comes to family law cases, consequently they can issue orders that do not strictly adhere to the above definitions. The bottom line is that the judge is to issue an order that represents the bests interests of the children.
Visitation of Children
Generally, the parent who does not have the child or children more than half of the time is entitled to, and given, visitation with the child or children. This is done through a court order that establishes a parenting plan/visitation plan. Visitation plans should be specific in order to avoid potential conflicts and eliminate confusion. Parenting plans that allow for “reasonable visitation” as “agreed upon by the parties” should be avoided at all costs. These type of parenting plans typically cause conflict and confusion and often result in the parties having to go back to court fairly quickly.
In developing a specific visitation plan, keep in mind that it can be helpful to be specific about which weeks of the month the visits will occur to make the plan more enforceable. For example, if a parent will have the child or children every other weekend, it would be helpful to define that specifically as the 1st, 3rd, and 5th (or the 2nd and 4th) weekend of the month. The pick-up and drop-off times may also be specific, such as Friday at 5:00 p.m. to Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Such specificity avoids conflict as to “whose weekend is it”, etc.
Supervised visitation is ordered when the child's or children's safety and well-being require that visits with a parent be supervised by the other parent, another adult, or a professional counselor or agency. Such can be the case when the non custodial parent has a history of instability, violence, etc.
Visitation is denied in extreme situations in which contact with the parent would be physically or emotionally harmful to the child.
What is Child Support?
Parents have a legal (and moral) duty to provide financial support to their children for their living and medical expenses. Generally, this is done through a court order that establishes and sets forth the child support that the parent or both parents must pay on a regular basis. Florida child support can be set up through the courts.
Florida child support amounts required to be paid for the support and maintenance of the children are set forth in a court order, judgment, decree or stipulated order. The child support is to provide for some or all of the financial support, health insurance coverage and arrearages (past due child support) if applicable.
In Florida, as with other states, there are Child Support Guidelines that set forth a standard method of determining the amount of child support. The key factors include the income of both parents and other factors as determined by Florida state law. The applicable law setting forth the guidelines is Florida Statutes 61.29 and 61.30.
Contact The Attorney Connection for Florida child support help.