If you are looking for a child custody lawyer, Rohe Law has many who dedicate a substantial amount of their time to child-related issues. A child custody lawyer will know the statutory factors the court is required to consider in deciding with which parent the child will spend the majority of the time, (or whether the child will likely spend equal time with each parent). Our legislature, with the guidance of family law attorneys and psychologists, has changed terminology over the years to be less insulting and more inclusive. Most people refer to disputes over the time each parent spends with the children as a “custody case”. I still use that term even though the statute has evolved over time to use different terminology. I use it because everybody understands what a “custody fight” means.
This History of Child Custody Law
Custody in a broader sense means ownership, possession, and control. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the courts were suddenly overwhelmed with divorce cases as the stigma attached to divorce was diminishing; the requirement of proving grounds for divorce had been eliminated in most states; and quite frankly women were not as dependent on their husbands as they were becoming more and more included in the workforce. As a result, child custody attorneys began handling divorce cases where children were involved at a much higher volume. A child custody attorney will also handle disputes over children when the parents are not married. The statutory factors the court considers in these cases are the same as in a divorce, but that it is called a Paternity case.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, child custody was determined based on generalizations as the courts were not set up and prepared to be dealing with the flood of family law cases that were coming through the system. Therefore, they created a rule of thumb that since mothers were, at that time, often stay-at-home parents, and when they were in the workforce they frequently had jobs associated with caring for children such as being nurses, teachers, etc., a presumption was created in the State of Florida called the “Tender Years Doctrine”. This doctrine placed custody of children with the mother unless she was unfit. Basically, at that time, fathers had no chance of getting custody of their children unless they could prove the mother unfit. While this presumption in favor of mothers was eliminated in the mid-1970s, the habit that had been created of favoring mothers over fathers carried over for years, if not decades to come, as many Judges typically favored children being placed with their mothers.
Child Custody in the 1980s
The law then changed so that “the best interest of the children” would determine who would win the child custody case. This change eliminates the presumption in favor of mothers. Before the late 1980s, the parent who had the majority of the time was given “custody of the children”. This meant that that parent had absolute control over what the child did, had access to all of the child’s records, and did not have to take the other parent’s wishes into consideration. The courts at that time believed that since there were two parents, if the parents could not agree, the court system would once again be overwhelmed with child custody fights or even dealing with the minutia of the day-to-day decision-making involving children. To avoid that, they gave one parent custody. The court did not want to be bogged down breaking the tie between two parents who could not agree.
Child Custody Today
In the late 1980’s, the decision was made to change Florida custody law from a system where one parent had basically absolute control, [other than visitation that the other parent, who paid child support (and was typically the father got)], to one where the courts recognized the importance of both parents being involved in the children’s lives. This concept was called “shared parental responsibility”.
Shared parental responsibility was a complete change from the concept of custody. It required parents to confer and agree regarding the children. Even if they could not agree, they were obligated to discuss major decisions and keep the other parent informed on issues regarding the children.
The idea of shared parental responsibility came from studies that showed that in general when two parents were involved in the child’s life, the child had a greater likelihood of success than when only one was involved. While that was not universal, the studies of the highest-risk children, (those who only had one parent involved and the other parent dropped out), showed that the category of children with only one parent involved was at the highest risk. Things that they are at the highest risk of included: dropping out of school, being arrested, teen pregnancy, being involved in gangs, being involved in drugs, and on and on. In order to figure out how to solve this problem, they did studies of the parents who are dropping out and found out that generally, the reason they said they dropped out of their children’s lives was that the other parent was not keeping them informed or letting them have any say so about their children. The studies also showed that parents who stayed more involved and had a relationship with their children were more likely to meet their child support obligations.
The best child custody lawyers will tell you that two-parent involvements are best for the children as, if there is a disagreement with one parent, instead of turning to peers or other bad influences, there is another parent there to keep the child on the right track. Under the current law, there are multiple factors which Rohe Law refers to as “friendly parent factors” that the court is required to consider in determining who to place the children with. The other factors are referred to by Rohe Law as “stability factors”. What Rohe Law refers to as “stability factors”, favor keeping the child in a situation closest to what they are already accustomed to as long as it is not harmful to them. Part of the friendly parent factors include consideration of how informed each parent keeps the other and how involved they allow the other parent to be, as well as how flexible they are with the other parent’s requirement for modifications on special occasions. Our child custody lawyers advise our clients to take the high-road and be accommodating for the child’s sake, as long as it does not hurt the child or damage their case and their chances of getting as much time with the child or children as they wish.
Sole Custody becomes Sole Parental Responsibility
In extreme cases, where shared parental responsibility would not be good for the child or children, the court can award “sole parental responsibility”. This is very similar to the old concept of “custody” in that one parent gets to make all of the decisions and have access to all of the records and can exclude the other. In order for the court to award sole parental responsibility of a child, the court needs to make a finding that shared parental responsibility would be harmful to the child. It is very difficult, even for a good child custody lawyer, to prove that it would be harmful for the other parent to know what is happening with the child, to have issues discussed with them, and to be able to see their records. Extreme examples that Rohe Law has encountered in the past include a parent who shows up at the child’s activities and disrupts those activities and a parent who is drug-addicted and extremely unreliable and unstable.
Ultimate Decision Making
A third option allowed by the court in the Florida statutes is for the court to grant one parent “ultimate decision making” in certain areas. This is commonly the case when the parents are at absolute odds on major issues such as religion, extracurricular activities, schooling issues, and health decisions. In such instances a child custody attorney will present facts to the court as to why their client has either superior knowledge or skills in that area or has traditionally performed those roles; and, present evidence as to how the other party has made decisions in that category that are not in the child’s best interest or has disrupted the child’s activities in a certain category. When it is absolutely clear that the parties will not agree in that category, and that the court will have to break the tie, the court frequently does not want to get involved, (for example stating that the child will attend or refrain from certain types of religious activities). The solution is to give one parent ultimate decision-making in that realm.
Language used by a Child Custody Lawyer
The language that child custody attorneys use has changed over time and will be briefly recited here so that if you encounter technical terms, you will understand what they mean. In the late 1980s, the Legislature switched the terminology from custody to shared parental responsibility; the person with whom the child or children spent the majority of the time was called the “primary residential parent”, and the parent who had less time as called the “secondary residential parent”. Over time those terms were seen as inappropriate as they seemed to relegate one parent as being less important and given the court’s emphasis on two-parent involvement in children’s lives, these terms were eliminated. The same has to do with the term “visitation”. Originally when the custodial parent had custody, the other parent would get “visitation”. Even after shared parenting was put in place the parent who had less time was given a “visitation schedule”. This also seemed to imply that that parent was not as important. The term “visitation” was replaced with the term “timesharing” and both parents had timesharing according to a timesharing plan.
How Rohe Law can Help with a Parenting Plan
The legislature then mandated that in what used to be called a child custody case, that there be a document created called a “parenting plan”. The parenting plan is a detailed document that makes clear what timesharing each parent will have, including over the holidays’, as well as how decisions will be made, how the children are exchanged, how the parents communicate with each other, what the parents are to refrain from doing and on and on. The more detailed this agreement is, the less likely the parties will have to get a child custody attorney involved in the future to straighten out disagreements. While it may be more expensive to anticipate as many problems as possible, that extra money spent up front often fends off very extensive and costly litigation in the future. You should certainly get a thorough and experienced child custody lawyer involved in drafting your parenting plan. Contact Rohe Law today and let our group of experienced Child Custody Attorney’s guide you through this sometimes tumultuous and confusing process because, in the end, we want what our clients want. We want what’s best for your child.