Custody and Time Sharing FAQ
By Orlando Family Law Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias
How Can I Get “Full Custody” or “Primary Custody” of My Child?
Florida family courts (not including dependency courts) no longer employ the term "custody". In 2008 the Florida legislature replaced “custody” with the more neutral “time-sharing”. Their intent was to mitigate the “one-winner, one-loser" mentality that permeated divorce and paternity laws. The removal of the phrases "sole custody", “primary custody” and “primary residential parent” was also designed treat both parents equally. No longer would there be a parent who, by implication, was less important to the child, even if awarded less than 50% of time sharing.
Parents need to know that, in Florida, family court judges simply do not choose one parent over the other to take care of a child and, in almost all cases involving time-sharing, both parents will be awarded overnights with their child. This leads to the next frequently asked question:
Is Florida a 50-50 State Regarding Child Custody Time-Sharing?
The short answer is no (at least not yet). Currently, every case involving time-sharing, regardless of whether it involves a divorce or an unmarried couple, is evaluated on its own merits, starting with a blank slate. No preferred parenting plan exists. Basically, the family court judge applies the enumerated factors listed in Section 61.13, Florida Statutes to the blank slate that is your case.
Should judges continue to handle “child custody” disputes like this? Absolutely not. As I explained in The Time Has Come For Equal Custody Time-Sharing the blank slate model incentivizes costly and contentious litigation, overlooks the extensive social science supporting equal time-sharing for children, and usually leaves one parent feeling bitter towards the other. However, until the Florida legislature realizes this, and adopts a rebuttable presumption in favor of equal time-sharing, family law litigants cannot rely on a standard parenting plan.
Should We Hire a Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian Ad Litem is appointed by a family court judge to represent the child of children in a case involving time sharing. However, unlike how it works in dependency cases, where a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is automatically appointed, the appointment of a GAL in a family law case is optional and solely within the judge’s discretion.
A Guardian Ad Litem sounds like a noble concepts on the surface. But, in reality, these “experts” are actually just attorneys who conduct a cursory and short-sighted “investigation”. Then they present their opinions to the family court judge. In Florida, a GAL is not a mental health professional. This begs the question: Why would this individual possess any special insight into the long-term mental and emotional well-being of the child? Furthermore, the GAL only sees a “snap-shot” image of the domestic situation at the moment (which if they’ve been appointed, means that its strained and broken).
They cannot and will not consider the child’s long-term need for both parents playing substantial roles in the child’s life. They cannot and will not consider the overwhelming research supporting equal parenting for children. A GAL is also prohibitively expensive for the average divorce and paternity litigant already burdened with attorney’s fees.
Finally, the family law case comes to a grinding halt while the Guardian Ad Litem performs his or her interviews and drafts the report. Thus, the child and the parents must wait even longer before obtaining finality and moving on with their lives. In short, I do not recommend the use of a GAL in divorce and paternity cases.
How Can AAA Family Law Help?
If you have any other questions about child custody and time sharing between divorcing parents, or in paternity cases, please call AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 and schedule a 30-minute free family lawyer consultation with me. At the consultation: (1) I will listen to your explanation of the family law situation that you are facing and to your questions, (2) answer your questions and (3) if it requires legal action, I will outline to you the steps of these actions and quote you a fixed lawyer retainer fee, not an hourly rate whose total is unpredictable. For additional information on our attorney retainer fees please click on Attorney Fees.