Lawrence J. Siemer, P.A. - Orange Park Divorce Lawyer

Phone: (904) 269-9930  Email:  

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Lawrence J. Siemer P.A.
1279 Kingsley Avenue
Orange Park, Florida
(904) 269-9930

If a couple has children, the first question we usually get asked relates to them. It may be “Who gets the kids?” or “Can I get sole custody?” The answer to the question is seldom easy.

First, Florida no longer uses the concepts of “custody” or “visitation”, so, except in orders issued before the change in the law, there isn’t a “custodial parent” per se. Florida judgments, whether in divorce or paternity cases, now require simply that the children’s time be explicitly divided between the parents. The law requires that the details of this time-sharing and the allocation of parental responsibilities be included in a formal parenting plan, but how does a parent – or the judge – determine what the details of that plan will be. The deceptively simple answer, under the law, is that it should be whatever is in the best interests of the children, but what is that really? It helps, we think, to understand that in most cases this is a trick question because it implies that there is only one correct answer. When it comes to something as complicated as children and the dynamics of family relationships, however, there are probably many specific time-sharing arrangements which can allow the children to be safely raised in a healthy, nurturing environment and the factors that go into the analysis can be almost infinite. So how does a parent get through this?

It depends.

Let’s look at the situation where both parents are getting along reasonably well, are trying to do what is best for the children, and have roughly similar beliefs regarding child rearing. In such a case the major issue is just getting everything down on paper: Who will have the children at what times? Where will they go to school? How will the holidays be handled? Who will provide transportation at the beginning and end of time-sharing? How will the children’s summer be spent? Who determines which extracurricular activities they will participate in (which can be especially difficult if the activity requires participation during both parent’s time with the children) and how will the costs of those be paid? What happens if a parent has to miss some time? A lawyer familiar with this area of the law can help tailor an agreement which takes into consideration the parent’s work schedules, the children’s school schedules, and the resources available.

The opposite extreme is where the parents really do not like each other and/or have very different ideas of how children should be raised. Even worse, one of the parents may really not care much about how his/her children are affected, but only wants to hurt the other parent, or insure that his/her “rights” to the children are enforced? In such cases the issues are the same, but getting an agreement is much more difficult. It is sometimes impossible.

If an agreement cannot be achieved, then the judge will have to decide what the parenting plan should be. What are some of the things the judge will consider?

S/he is required to consider 19 specific factors which are listed in Florida Statute §61.13.

S/he may consider any other factor relating to the best interests of the children, even if such factor is not specifically listed in Florida Statute §61.13. In essence, this means the judge can consider anything that in any way relates to the children.

S/he may order a social investigation to be performed by a professional, such as a psychologist, who will generally make recommendations relating to the best interests of the children. The judge will usually require that this investigation be paid for by the parents, but the cost is not always divided equally.

If you anticipate a battle relating to the children, and even if you don’t, it is usually a good idea to begin keeping a written (but secure) history of events that you believe to be significant to the children’s best interests, including dates, witnesses, pictures, copies of emails and texts, work schedules, etc.

For most people, this is the most complicated and difficult issue in the divorce. We deal with these issues on a daily basis and can provide you with the assistance you need to put an agreement together or, if that isn’t possible, to present the case to the judge in the most favorable light.

[In Florida the age of majority is 18.]

The information on this site is not intended to present a comprehensive explanation of the law and cannot be considered to be legal advice. It should not be relied upon in making decisions in your individual case. If you require legal advice and assistance you should consult an attorney.

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