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Changes Coming For Florida Child Custody And Timesharing Cases?

ByThe Spence Law Firm May 30, 2020

The Florida Legislature may bring back a bill to modify the way courts analyze child custody and timesharing cases in Florida. The Florida House Civil Justice Subcommittee held a workshop at the end of October 2019 to discuss the possible bill, so it may make it to the floor for a vote this legislative year. This bill could potentially be packaged together with another potential bill we have discussed in a previous post regarding changes to Florida alimony law.

The Florida Legislature made another attempt in the 2021 legislative session to modify the rules on timesharing cases, but it never made it out of committee. Both the 2019 and 2021 proposed bills were substantially similar.

Child Custody Fights Would Start with a 50/50 Presumption

The most contentious portion of the previous child custody bill was a section that required judges in custody cases to begin with the premise that the parents should have a 50/50 timesharing plan. Current Florida law requires the court to evaluate a list of 20 separate items as described in Florida Statutes section 61.13 (3)(a) through (t). The guiding star for the court in all current Orlando child custody cases is the best interests of the child (or children).

Florida child custody cases tend toward lengthy and fact-intensive hearings because of the complexity and number of issues involved. The court has to evaluate all 20 factors or more, since the final factor is a “catch all” that allows any other relevant information to be brought in, to determine what type of child custody or timesharing plan is in the best interest of the child.

Little Guidance on Opposing 50/50 Timesharing Presumption

The current bill would somewhat streamline the court’s work in child custody cases. In new cases filed under the proposed statute, the court would begin with the premise that both parents are entitled to equal timesharing, or a 50/50 timesharing plan. There is little guidance at this time on what the party opposing the presumed 50/50 timesharing plan would have to prove to have the court vary from the custody presumed by the proposed law.

Proponents of the bill like the somewhat simplified approach, which they maintain is needed to assure both parties have equal rights to time with their children. Although the former bill did allow for the judge to deviate from a 50/50 timesharing plan, critics of the bill noted that a 50/50 timesharing plan is not the best option in all cases. For example, in cases involving domestic abuse or drug and alcohol abuse, using a 50/50 timesharing plan would not be a good idea for the children. Opponents of the proposed law want the judge to hear all the evidence and determine appropriate custody and timesharing plans that are in the best interests of the children. The proposed bill, they argue, focuses on what is in the best interest of the parents rather than the best interests of the children.

Difficulties Determining Child Custody and Timesharing Issues

Encouraging shared parenting of children whose parents are divorced or going through a divorce is not only Florida law, it’s a generally good idea for the children to have both parents involved in their lives. We can all agree on that basic principal. The difficulty comes in “dividing up” the children’s time between the competing parents, and how the time is shared, when they cannot agree among themselves what the appropriate custody or timesharing arrangement should be. In these contested child custody cases, the court should have as much information as possible to determine custody and timesharing issues and should have the flexibility to direct a plan that works for the family at issue. Whether or not starting with a pre-determined 50/50 timesharing plan work is not known at this point, but keep your eyes on more news on this issue from the Florida legislature in the coming months.

Consult With an Experienced Orlando Child Custody Lawyer

If you have questions about your child custody or timesharing case then call The Spence Law Firm to schedule a Free initial consultation to discuss your case.