Do child custody laws treat both parents fairly?

Do both parents get a fair chance in child custody proceedings? It's a question often asked by parents, particularly fathers, going through a divorce. Wondering if you will be able to see your children on a regular basis let alone get custody of them can cause significant anxiety.

If you have this fear, your feelings are valid. Historically, courts across the country have favored moms. State legislators adopted principles from an English law doctrine that presumed that it was a mother's care that benefited a child most during their early years. For the greater part of the 1900s, custody laws reflected that notion or courts followed it when applying the "best interests of the child" standard.

It was not until 1979 when lawmakers made it clear that a child benefits from a relationship with both parents. They passed the first state law that presumed joint custody to be in the best interests of the child. Florida was not the first state, but it did amend its custody laws.

Under Florida law, the terms "custody and visitation" are no longer used, viewed instead as parenting and parenting time. The current language states:

"It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing. There is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying the parenting plan of the child [emphasis added]."

The law is clear, "There is no presumption for or against the father or mother." It goes on to say that both parents should share the responsibility of parenting, namely being able to make decisions that affect the child's health, wellness and upbringing.

The language is specific, but how do judges apply the law to cases in Orlando? Is the outcome always fair? Joint parenting and shared parenting time is presumed, but that doesn't always mean a 50/50 split of time.

There are a lot of factors to consider, such as:

  • Where each parent lives
  • Work schedules
  • Where the child goes to school
  • How adjusted the child is to his or her school
  • Extracurricular and sports schedules
  • Immediate and extended family support
  • The relationship between each parent and the child
  • The ability of the parents to work together

These are only a few of the endless considerations a judge may make when ordering or approving an arrangement. The best results often come from cooperation between the parents, when they can negotiate a plan that will work for them. When they cannot agree, each parent presents their case to the court.

In either situation, it is crucial to have an attorney skilled in navigating tough conversations involving serious emotions. Their knowledge and experience can help guide you toward the best outcome possible. You can modify parenting plans, but it is not necessarily an easy process. You want to get it right the first time.

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