What constitutes the best interests of the child?

On Behalf of | Oct 17, 2016 | Child Custody & Visitation |

Divorce proceedings can be long and complex due to the procedures followed for divvying up assets accumulated during a marriage; however, the process can double or triple in complexity when children are involved. When issues of custody (now referred to as timesharing) fuel a tug-of-war mentality, parents may feel that obtaining sole parental rights is equivalent to “winning.” Should discussions over timesharing become contentious, neither parent may retain an objective perspective on the well-being of the child. It is for this reason that child timesharing and responsibility decisions are often rendered in court.

Family court judges are entrusted with the task of resolving child timesharing and responsibility disputes. In fact, it’s fair to say that whenever parents divorce with children under 18, they are consenting to a Judge to determine what’s best for their children, in the event that the parents themselves cannot agree on this issue.

In the state of Florida , if the divorcing parents have at least one child under 18 who is not otherwise emancipated, the court must develop a parenting plan that determines when each parent is with the child, and which parent has responsibility for the child. The standard that guides the court in making these determinations is known as “the best interests of the child” standard. Although this phrase may sound subjective, there are actual statutory factors that judges follow to ensure that the parent who will best support the welfare of the child is awarded the most time with the child.

Here are three factors Florida family courts consider when ruling on child custody cases:

1. Child’s and family history

The courts look at the type of relationship that has existed between the child and each parent. Importantly, the Court seeks to determine which parent prioritizes the child’s interests above their own. Reports of abuse will also be taken into consideration. Testimony can provide evidence of parental involvement in the child’s upbringing and education.

2. Child’s well-being

The court will also account for each parent’s ability to provide for the child. This doesn’t mean that the parent will be able to purchase whatever toy the child desires, however. Judges will study the income each parent earns to see if housing, food, health and education, and clothing requirements can be met.

3. Continuity of care

In an attempt to lessen the impact that the divorce has on the child, the court endeavors to craft a custody decision that maintains continuity of care and schooling. It is for this reason that the court will encourage the parents to maintain enrollment in the child’s current school. In order to promote stability, the judge will study the network of support for the family that exists in the community. For example, if the maternal grandparents live within close proximity to the child, the court may grant the mother more control in the custody arrangement.

One myth is that courts favor the mother. In truth, Florida courts are supposed to start with no preference whatsoever regarding which parent will spend more time with the child.