Florida Child Custody and Visitation
At the Law Offices of James S. Cunha, P.A., we understand that child custody and visitation disputes in Florida divorce and family law cases are the source of substantial anxiety, uncertainty and even hostility. Our attorneys are committed to assisting clients in finding ways to navigate past the emotional barriers that can prevent long-term stable co-parenting arrangements. We seek to negotiate amicable time-sharing arrangements that minimize your anxiety and reduce the adverse impact on your children. Because the parenting and time sharing arrangements that we develop for our clients must survive long after the resolution of the divorce or paternity action, we are committed to fashioning stable, workable solutions that protect our clients and their children.
Historically, Florida law typically provided for designating a primary residential parent and non-custodial parent. This framework no longer applies because the State of Florida has followed the national trend in moving away from the concepts of “child custody” and “child visitation” toward parenting plans and time-sharing. The rationale for the shift toward parenting plans and time sharing arrangements is based on a belief that it is in the best interest of children to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Generally, both parents will share parental responsibilities and the non-residential parent will be given a reasonable amount of time-sharing with the child-unless that parent is determined to be unfit.
Protecting Clients’ Relationships with their Children
A parenting plan in a divorce or paternity action in Florida may be developed by agreement between you and the other parent or imposed by the court. Because an agreement that is constructed by the parents will typically be more palatable and stable for both parents and their children, we work diligently to craft an effective parenting plan that meets the best interest of our clients and their children. When the court is called upon to create a parenting plan, there is a much higher chance that the agreement will be unacceptable to both parents and result in ongoing animosity and litigation. A Florida parenting plan should address a number of issues and carefully designate parental time sharing arrangements, such as the following:
- Specific allocation of time for where your children will reside during the week and on the weekends.
- Allocation of special days like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, parents’ birthdays, and children’s birthdays.
- Arrangements for summer vacations and school vacations periods.
- Times and locations for parental time sharing exchanges.
- Manner and times for communication with the children (telephonic, e-mail, etc.).
- Procedures facilitating communication between parents to discuss parenting and time sharing issues.
- Determination of which parent’s address shall be provided to the school for residential purposes.
- Designation of responsibilities regarding health care and school related issues.
The link below is a copy of the Parenting Plan Form that has been prepared and approved by the Florida Supreme Court. In addition, the link provides a description and instructions for the Parenting Plan Form. Despite the form’s instructions, however, it would be in your best interest to obtain the assistance of an attorney to advise you of your legal rights.
While it is almost always in your best interest to have our law firm negotiate a constructive co-parenting arrangement, we are well aware that sometimes it is impossible to get the other parent to cooperate in reaching a mutually beneficial parenting plan. Our law firm is prepared to implement effective litigation strategies and utilize persuasive advocacy to obtain a parenting plan that you believe is in your child(ren)’s best interests. In a contested custody dispute, there are a several practical considerations which may have a substantial impact in determining a parenting plan and time sharing arrangement, such as:
School Performance: Judges in child custody cases are well aware that there may be bitterness and animosity between the parents making allegations by either parent suspect. Academic performance provides an objective measure of a child’s performance that is difficult for either parent to manipulate. If either parent has had their children reside with them during the school week after parents separate, a child’s academic performance, school behavioral issues and social adjustment may play a significant role in the court’s determination of the most appropriate timeshare arrangement. Our attorneys will typically request report cards, letters from teachers, records of academic awards, school disciplinary reports and other documents that quantify children’s school performance.
Work Schedule and Availability: Family law judges almost always express a preference for placing a child with a parent rather than with a babysitter or caregiver even if that caregiver is a family member. This is an important consideration in a contested timeshare dispute because the court will typically evaluate proposed timeshare arrangements based on the best interest of the child standard. It can be counterproductive to aggressively argue for parenting time when you are unavailable because of work or school obligations. This is an important strategic consideration because not only will the available parent likely prevail, but the court may view your request as a failure to prioritize your child’s best interest.
Taking the High Road: Child custody disputes arise for a reason, which often means that the parents may have a less than amicable relationship. These feelings of mistrust and animosity can make it difficult to reach timeshare and parenting arrangements. Our firm works diligently to help clients navigate through these emotional roadblocks because judges place a high value on a parent’s willingness to promote frequent and continuing contact with the other parent. If you display an attitude supporting your children’s relationship with the other parent, the court is more inclined to presume that you are prepared to put the best interest of your children above your own negative feelings toward the other parent.
Parental Fitness: Parents need to understand that the courts preference for substantial contact with both parents means that the court imposes an extremely high standard before finding a parent unfit. The court will have a strong preference to having both parents substantially involved in a child’s life unless there are very serious issues, such as child abuse, drug use, alcoholism, child neglect, child endangerment, spousal abuse, felony convictions especially involving use of force or violence and other serious issues.
Residing in the Family Home: We know that it can be unbearable to reside under the same roof with your spouse or the other parent after your relationship has deteriorated. If you consider moving out of the family residence, you should first obtain legal advice from an experienced Palm Beach family law attorney because your decision can have serious, long-term repercussions on timeshare arrangements. Once you leave the family home, you may be at the mercy of the other parent when you seek access to your children until court proceedings have been initiated and temporary timeshare arrangements have been ordered. If you do not promptly initiate court action to obtain access to your children, the court may interpret your lack of action as a de facto agreement to allow the other parent to have the lion’s share of parenting responsibilities. The status quo is important in any child custody dispute because courts like to preserve as much stability as possible for children. This means you need to be careful about the status quo that you create.
At our law firm, we are firmly committed to guiding you through the often tumultuous process of a child custody dispute and protecting you and your children from the potentially damaging consequences of a bitter and contentious child custody dispute. Even when a marriage or relationship with a significant other breaks down, co-parenting relationships endure for the lifetime of your child.
We are loyal and passionate about our clients’ cases and consistently seek the best possible resolution to their timeshare and parenting plan issues. We bring a substantial level of skill, knowledge and diligence along with the ability to think outside of the box so that we can be the most effective advocates for our clients. We understand the importance of preserving your close connection to your children and will work hard to protect your parent-child relationship.
The Law Offices of James S. Cunha, P.A. assist clients in all Divorce and Family Law Matters throughout West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Boynton Beach, Jupiter, Delray Beach, and Boca Raton in Palm Beach County. We also offer legal representation to clients who reside in Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee, Hendry, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties.