As I discuss in a few pages here on the website, child custody is a concept in Florida law that has been replaced with two legal issues – Time Sharing and Parental Responsibility. The first addresses the time each parent spends with the child, and the second who has decision making authority regarding children’s issues. As a Fort Lauderdale attorney working on “child custody”, or time-sharing and parental responsibility issues, I find that these issues, because of the importance in addressing a parent’s time with their child, and the welfare of the child, can engender some of the most heated litigation in a case; and sometimes this litigation in an attempt to serve the best interests of the child can harm the child, due to the conflict between the parents, and the child becoming directly or indirectly involved in the litigation and the parents conflict.
Whenever possible, I believe it is best for these issues to be resolved outside of a courtroom in Fort Lauderdale or elsewhere in the State, through settlement, mediation, or collaborative law/collaborative divorce. There is more about each of these processes on the website. The choices for how to proceed sometimes are clear, but sometimes can be confusing, and one of the primary things I do when I meet with you is discuss the case and the best way to proceed among your options.
One issue parents can face sometimes is how to proceed in the face of an emergency. Do I send the child back to the other parent -- how best to protect the child but not cause problems in court? Although there is never a guarantee how a Judge will decide and each Judge can be different, and the facts of each case are vitally important, in my opinion based on litigating these issues there as some ways Judges prefer for these issues to be handled, and it can be helpful to consult with an attorney regarding emergency issues.
A potentially difficult issue that arises in divorce and other family law cases is relocation. To the parent wanting to relocate, the issue may seem clear – I’ll have a much better job in the new location and it will be a much better life for the child. Florida law, most Judges and probably most lawyers recognize though the impact on a child and the other parent of lost time with the child – relocation cases are not necessarily easy or automatic. Some of the relevant factors are the time each parent actually spends with the child – if one parents is not spending extensive time and the time can be provided in other ways long-distance, the issue can become more clear. Also relevant are if a parent is current with child support; as well as numerous other factors relating to the best interests of the child. The factors are set forth in Florida Statutes 61.13001(7).
Relocation cases are prime for attempted resolution outside of court. Although it is often difficult to compromise on the location of a move, there are often options for negotiating regarding changed timesharing and handling transportation for timesharing. It is different, thought, for a parent to have weeks or months of time during the Summer on other holidays, versus multiple days with the child every week.
One of the things we discuss if we meet regarding relocation, is my sense regarding the likelihood of prevailing if the case is litigated, as well as options for seeking to resolve the case, including Collaborative Law. If it is possible for the parties with their collaboratively trained lawyers and the MHP to sit down and attempt to resolve the case – whether that be to move forward with the relocation or not, or something in between, that will be a different feel, and a different level of expense, than proceeding to a trial on this issue. And if a children’s issue can be resolved by agreement with less animosity and conflict, it can potentially be better for the children; and also set the stage for the two you to be able to continue over the coming years without as much conflict, the energy that goes into that, and the potential negative impact of conflict on the child(ren). It may be difficult to see how it could be possible to settle an issue this way, and I encourage you, if you want, to read more of the Collaborative Law, Collaborative Divorce, and Co-Mediation pages on the website.
In Relocation, as well as for other time-sharing (child custody) issues in Florida, the legal standard is the best interests of the child. Many statutes list specific factors to consider, but they will usually include most of the factors you would think are important for the child. When there are disagreements and the case is litigated, recourse is often made, i.e. the Judge orders or the parties agree, to appointment of a Guardian ad Litem, to a Social Investigation, or sometimes psychological/psychiatric evaluations. Parenting Coordination can be used to assist in difficult, high-conflict situations.
A Child Specialist can be brought in also to assist when we try to resolve cases outside of court. One of the beauties of the Collaborative Law or Collaborative Divorce process is that the meetings are led by a Mental Health Professional (MHP) who is often a child specialist, and we can bring in additional experts as needed. In addition, each party has their collaboratively trained attorney who can tell you how these issues tend to get resolved in court, and likely outcomes there. There is a high success rate for settlement in Collaborative Law cases – multiple studies report settlement rates of high 80 to low 90 percent. Not appropriate for all cases, but a better alternative than adversarial litigation in my opinion when it is a possible option.
Review if you want the pages here on the website relevant to the issues for you, and call (954) 636-7498 or use the contact form on the website, and we can discuss the children’s issues in your case.