To get a divorce in Florida, spouses must meet certain requirements and follow the steps specified in the current legislation, which can be quite confusing for people without legal education. The process becomes even more tedious when it comes to divorce in Florida with a child, which is explained by the fact that during marriage dissolution with minor children involved, you will not only have to agree on the terms of spousal support or property division but also decide on child custody, visitation, and maintenance.
Filing for divorce in Florida with a child is a morally exhausting and financially difficult procedure in most situations. Considering this fact, you should learn the basic rules regarding divorce in Florida and understand the main stages you need to go through. In this article, we will discuss the terms of deciding child-related issues during the dissolution of marriage and talk about the basic requirements for their settlement.
Common Issues to Consider When Divorcing in Florida with Children
Getting a divorce with a child implies that you will need to decide:
- where and with whom your children will live after your marriage is terminated,
- who will make all the important decisions about their life,
- what the amount of their maintenance will be,
- how the child support will be distributed.
According to FLA. STAT. § 61.503(2), children are all persons under 18.
Before you start coming to terms with your spouse concerning child-related matters, note that Florida divorce laws oblige you to complete a Florida Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course (FLA. STAT. § 61.21(2)(a)). Its duration is 4 hours, and you must confirm class completion to the court before the final decision on divorce is issued.
Child Custody Laws in Florida
According to child custody laws in Florida, the court will determine custody of minor children based on the best interests of the kids. Unlike in some other states, where the terms “physical and legal custody” are used, in Florida, the concept of custody has been replaced by parental responsibility and visitation by timesharing.
Parental responsibility defines the rights of both parents to make important decisions regarding the life, health, and education of their minor children. If it is shared, both parties must agree on every decision regarding their children; if it is sole, only one of them will decide how to act in each situation concerning their child. However, this division of parental responsibility is often conditional because the court can order both parents to make important decisions and allow one of them to solve routine issues without the permission of the other.
Custody laws in Florida do not require joint parental responsibility in every case. Judges do not give preference to mothers or fathers and decide with whom children will spend most of their time, taking into account what will be the best decision for kids. Sometimes, if children involved are over 12 years old, their opinions can also be heard in court.
In addition to parental responsibility, the timesharing issues need to be resolved. They determine where children spend most of their time and how long they stay with both parents. The timesharing schedule can be different, depending on the age of children, their needs and interests, and the terms of parental responsibility. Most often, parents introduce a weekly exchange, during which children live for a week with one of them and then with the other.
When parents are able to cooperate and independently decide on child-related issues, they may conclude an agreement and submit it to the court. If the judge has no objections, they will grant a dissolution of marriage, taking spousal arrangements into account. In a contested case, when parties cannot resolve disputes over child custody on their own, the court will intervene and settle its terms.
The main circumstances that must be taken into account by the court when assigning parental responsibility and timesharing are contained in FLA. STAT. § 61.13.
The following factors are the most significant ones in determining child custody issues within the state:
- Physical and mental health, as well as the moral fitness of both parents.
- Parents’ awareness of the child’s interests and circumstances.
- Readiness of each parent to participate in children’s lives.
- The desire and ability of parents to act following the needs of children.
- Children’s relationship with each parent.
- Place of children’s residence and education.
- Children’s adaptation to the community.
- Distance between both parents.
- Evidence of alcohol or drug abuse or domestic violence on the part of either parent.
As specified in FLA. STAT. § 61.401, if the issues of timesharing and parental responsibility cannot be resolved, the court can appoint a Guardian Ad Litem or a mediator who will act exclusively in the interests of children and help determine where and with whom they will feel better and more protected. These specialists will conduct the observation, clarify the case circumstances, and submit their report to the court for the judge to issue the most appropriate decision.
Child Support in Florida
The amount of child support in Florida is determined according to the current legislation and distributed between both parents, who are obliged to maintain children after divorce until they reach the age of 18 or 19 in some cases.
Calculating child support within the state is not based on the parties’ wishes but is usually made on the basis of FLA. STAT. § 61.30 (6), where the exact amounts are specified depending on the spouses’ income and the number of children.
So that the judge can verify the parents’ agreement regarding the maintenance of minor children or assign the required amount, both spouses must provide the court with Financial Affidavits containing a list of their income and expenses. Along with them, parties should complete Child Support Guidelines Worksheets based on FLA. STAT. § 61.30.
The court may also order retroactive child support, which is the maintenance that each parent must pay until the court makes the final decision on the issue.
Here are some common factors that can be taken into account by the judge when determining child support:
- Financial standard of living in the family before the divorce.
- Age and state of health of each parent.
- Property division terms settled during the divorce process.
- Amount of non-marital assets and liabilities owned by each parent.
- Professional skills and the possibility of each party to get a job.
- List of parental responsibilities that are awarded to each of the spouses.
- Age of children.
- Presence of special medical or educational needs of minor children (FLA. STAT. § 61.30).
Although the amount of child support is assigned before the child turns 18, it can be adjusted over time under new circumstances. For example, if one of the parents has lost a job or employment opportunity, or if children require additional medical or educational services, the court can review the previous decision at the request of one or both parties.
Property Division in Florida Divorce with a Child
When dividing property in Florida, the court is guided by the prerequisite that it must be divided equally. However, if the judge considers equal property sharing between spouses unfair or unjustified, it may sometimes not be 50/50. Therefore, the state law provides for the equitable distribution of marital assets (FLA. STAT. §61.075).
For example, during a divorce with a child, the judge can award the family home to the parent who will live with the child permanently, and the other spouse can be compensated for its value with other assets (FLA. STAT. §61.075(1)(h)). A similar situation may arise when it is necessary to divide a business. If it is difficult to share it between spouses, one of them can receive it in full, while the other will get other ownership instead (FLA. STAT. §61.075(1)(f)).
Not all property owned by spouses will be divided during a divorce. Property division in Florida applies only to marital assets that spouses acquired during the marriage jointly or separately. It can be real estate, cars, jewelry, businesses, and pensions. Assets specified in the marriage contract as separate, as well as obtained by spouses before marriage and received as gifts from third parties and inheritance, are considered non-marital property.
Although the ownership of parties that belonged to them before the wedding is non-marital, it can also be divided if the other party increases its value during the marriage.
According to FLA. STAT. §61.075, when dividing assets, the court will pay attention to various circumstances, including:
- Duration of marriage.
- Conditions of parental responsibility.
- Financial status of both parties.
- The number of non-marital assets owned by each of the spouses.
- The contribution of either party to the education of the other and the increase in the value of their property.
- Financial behavior of each spouse during marriage.
- Agreements between parties regarding the property division.
When filing for divorce, spouses can independently decide how to divide their property by concluding a Marital Settlement Agreement. If parties have disputes on this matter, the judge will determine the property separation conditions, considering the interests of the minor children involved, among other factors.
Creating a Parenting Plan
If parties can agree on the terms of child custody during the divorce, they must create a Parenting Plan and file it with the court for approval. In case they cannot reach an agreement, the judge will appoint a Parenting Plan that they must follow.
A divorce parenting plan must contain all conditions regarding child-related issues, including where and with whom children will live, how much time they will spend with their parents, etc.
If you are interested in how to write a parenting plan, here is the main information you need to include in it:
- Permanent residence of children.
- Visiting schedule for each parent.
- Parental responsibility of each spouse for making decisions concerning the child’s life.
- Terms of exchange and communication with children.
- Arrangements for children’s relocation.
In addition, a Parenting Plan can specify who will pay the children’s transportation costs, how parents will communicate with each other, and how their participation in school life and children’s health issues will be distributed.
After the court approves the Parenting Plan, both spouses must comply with its terms. In case of unforeseen circumstances, the judge can review its conditions.
Factors that may lead to the need to change the Parenting Plan may include:
- Death of one of the parents.
- Workplace change or relocation of either spouse.
- Cruel behavior towards children on the part of either parent.
- Imprisonment of one of the spouses.
- Changes in the child’s needs and interests.
If parents agree to the new terms of the Parenting Plan, they can prepare a new document on their own and submit it to the court for confirmation. Otherwise, the judge will consider their request to change the conditions of parental responsibility and timesharing and decide on the matter.
The resolution of child-related issues during each divorce depends on a large number of circumstances, so determining the final result in advance is impossible. In order not to delay the case, you need to meet all the requirements and act within the framework of the current legislation.