How Does the Court Determine Parental Responsibility in Custody Cases?

What Is Parental Responsibility?

When parents who share children divorce, they must establish a custody order with the courts. There are three types of custody: legal custody, physical custody, and visitation. Custody may be awarded solely to one parent or jointly to both parents. Legal custody has to do with making important child-rearing decisions, while physical custody and visitation deal with where a child lives and how they split time between their parents.

In Florida, the common terms used when discussing physical and legal custody issues are "parenting time/time-sharing" and "parental responsibility." Parenting time and time-sharing relate to physical custody, while parental responsibility refers to each parent's right to make decisions for their child.

Decision-making areas that co-parents often share include:

  • Medical and healthcare needs
  • Educational decisions
  • Religious upbringing
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Other matters unique to the specific family

Parental responsibilities are generally outlined in your custody agreement and parental agreement/parenting plan. Generally speaking, most parents will share parental responsibilities post-divorce. This means that they will work together to make the important child-rearing decisions listed above.

It is also not uncommon for parents to continue to share legal custody, even if they do not share physical custody. For example, one parent may have primary custody of the children, while the other parent is granted visitation, and both parents share legal custody and parental responsibilities.

Parental responsibility takes three forms in Florida:

  • Shared parental responsibility
  • Shared responsibility with ultimate decision-making authority
  • Sole parental responsibility

How the Parental Agreement Affects Parental Responsibilities

In Florida, divorcing couples with children are required to develop and submit a parenting plan to the courts for approval. This plan must be agreed upon by the parents. But if they cannot agree, the courts will develop a parenting plan for them.

Things that must be included in a parenting plan:

  • How day-to-day responsibilities will be shared by the parents, such as taking the kids to and from school, etc.
  • Their time-sharing schedule, including how much time the child will spend with each parent
  • Who is responsible for health care and school matters, including the address that will be used for school registration
  • How parents will communicate with their children, including methods and technologies

How Do the Courts Determine Parental Responsibilities

According to Florida Statute 61.13, the parents should share parental responsibilities unless the courts determine that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child. If the parents are able to develop and agree upon their own parenting plan, this plan will be submitted to the courts for approval. If the courts find that the plan is in the child's best interest, they will approve it. However, if the parents cannot agree, the courts will develop a parenting plan for them, including designating parental responsibilities and based on the child's bests interests.

When making decisions regarding shared parental responsibilities, the courts may also consider the parents' expressed wishes regarding different matters. They may also grant one parent ultimate decision-making power over certain child-rearing aspects, regardless of whether the parents have shared legal custody and shared parental responsibilities. Similarly, the courts may also elect to award one parent sole parental responsibility, regardless of existing time-sharing and visitation agreements.

When evaluating parental responsibilities and what is in the best interests of the child, the courts consider:

  • How the parents demonstrate their capacity and commitment to fostering a close parent-child relationship
  • The parents' willingness to work together with the other parent when it comes to honoring the time-sharing schedule and/or necessary changes that arise
  • The parents' willingness and capability to meet the child's needs
  • The child's living situation and the parents' ability to maintain a stable, secure living situation for the child
  • The ability of the parents to provide a consistent routine for the child
  • How geography and where the parents live affects their ability to fulfill their parental responsibilities
  • The moral fitness of the parents
  • The physical and mental needs of the parents
  • Any evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual violence, child abandonment, or neglect

This is just a portion of the many things the courts consider when assigning and modifying parental responsibilities. They will also consider the preference of the child if reasonable and appropriate. Because determining parental responsibility and custody can be so complicated, it is important that you work with a skilled lawyer during your custody case.

If you are struggling with a custody case, reach out to The Virga Law Firm, P.A. to schedule a consultation. Our attorneys are prepared to help you today.

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