How to Get Full Custody of a Child in Florida

How to Get Full Custody of a Child

Florida courts won’t allow a parent’s rights to be completely cut off when it comes to having overnight visits, maintaining a relationship with, or making decisions about their child. The courts prioritize common-sense provisions to safeguard children. They may assign shared responsibilities to both parents, with one having the final say if they can’t agree. Visits may be supervised or restricted to daytime. Sometimes, visits might not be allowed until certain conditions, like a mental health evaluation, are met. Those seeking sole or full custody of their child can expect the other parent’s time sharing and responsibilities to be limited realistically.

Navigating Parental Responsibility in Florida

In Florida, getting sole parental responsibility is only possible in specific situations. The term “sole custody” hasn’t been used since 2011, although some older attorneys might still refer to it as such. When seeking legal assistance, it’s important to find a lawyer who believes in your case and has a persuasive narrative. However, many individuals may not succeed in this legal process. If the other parent has been proven to be unstable, unreliable, or dangerous, you might want to consider pursuing sole custody.

What Is Sole Parental Responsibility and Time Sharing?

We’ve noticed that many parents, backed by numerous cases, express a common concern when discussing sole parental responsibility. Despite this, most people still use terms like “custody” and “visitation,” which typically refer to:

  • The ability to make important decisions without considering the other parent’s input.
  • Determining when, where, and with whom the other parent can spend time with the children, and the specifics of these arrangements.

Let’s clarify what “time-sharing” and “sole parental responsibility” mean in Florida. There’s confusion about what parents should call their preferred way of parenting.

In Florida’s family courts, there are two main things to consider: time-sharing, also known as parental responsibility, and parental responsibilities. Time-sharing refers to the time you spend with your child, which used to be called visitation. In 2011, Florida’s Governor changed the law to focus on Shared Parental Responsibility Time Sharing, aiming to avoid labeling one parent as “primary” and the other as “secondary.” This shift was to sound more positive, similar to saying “I don’t babysit kids” on social media.

Parental time-sharing is the time you spend actively parenting your child, not just visiting them. Parental responsibility involves making decisions for your child, like where they go to school, which doctors they see, and what medication they take. Both parents usually have equal rights, but in practice, they decide on day-to-day matters during their time with the child. To make this work, they must keep each other informed about important appointments and decisions.

Some parents misunderstand full custody of their child, thinking it means completely cutting off the other parent. But in family court, this rarely happens unless there are extreme circumstances. Even then, the parent without custody might still get supervised visits under certain conditions.

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How to Get Full Custody of a Child

What It’s Like to Have Sole Parental Responsibility, Time-Sharing and Parenting?

Florida courts don’t typically cut off a parent’s rights to spend time with their child, have a relationship with them, or make decisions about them. They prioritize what’s best for the children and might implement common-sense measures to protect them. 

For instance, if parents can’t agree on something, the court might appoint a tie-breaking person. They could also grant supervised or daytime visits or delay visits until certain conditions, like mental health assessments, are met. People seeking sole or full custody of their child should understand that the other parent might still have limited time and responsibilities.

In 2014 and 2016, the Florida House of Representatives and Senate tried to pass a reform bill for alimony. One overlooked aspect of this bill was that it proposed starting with a 50/50 parenting time split in custody cases. While this could be seen as positive or negative depending on your situation, it’s important to note that the bill wasn’t signed into law. Courts still consider the child’s best interests, and each judge may have a different approach to time-sharing. It’s crucial to know the preferences of the judge you’re appearing before.

List of Realistic Outcomes

  • Restrictions on overnight visits are imposed in extreme cases like drug abuse or criminal activity.
  • Supervised visitation is difficult to obtain and is usually granted only if the other parent poses a serious danger to the child.
  • Requesting supervised visits can sometimes backfire on you.
  • Proving the other parent’s incapability to make rational decisions for the child is challenging and requires evidence of a consistent pattern of behavior.

Courts generally don’t favor sole custody. To get any of these outcomes, you need a clear, urgent, and well-documented reason from a reliable source. It’s not an easy feat, especially for parents representing themselves. Evidence must be strong and convincing to have a chance at winning anything close to sole custody.

Alternatives to Full Custody of a Child

Negotiated Parenting Plan

Parents can agree on a parenting plan that resembles sole custody, as long as it stays within the court’s guidelines. Courts usually accept such agreements, even if they seem a bit unconventional. A solid parenting plan should include “poison pills” that activate if one party tries to change the limited parenting rights. It’s crucial to have documented proof to present to the courts if the parents decide to alter the plan. This can be achieved legally and practically in various ways. 

Dependency Court

Dependency court is a separate legal process with its own court system in every Florida County. It deals with custody cases when parents are accused of abusing, neglecting, or abandoning their child, often involving Child Protective Services. Dependency Courts act swiftly to remove a child from danger and gradually work to reunite them with the parent. Parents must complete a case plan, including classes and criteria before they can visit their child for an extended period. 

Although Florida statutes governing dependency court don’t mention “sole custody,” the concept still applies. Sole parenting, where one parent is completely cut off, is most commonly seen in dependency courts.

Parents should think carefully before getting involved in the dependency court system. While parents in dependency court receive free legal representation, these attorneys are often overloaded and underpaid. Courts can make significant decisions about your children with limited information. If your child’s safety is at risk, hiring a private attorney is the best option.

Modification of Sole Custody Judgments

A parent can reopen a case if a final judgment resembles full custody of their child. Courts consistently emphasize that both parents must be involved in a child’s life. It’s challenging to prevent a parent with minimal rights from reopening the case. Ultimately, the evidence presented in court determines the outcome.

Some Things You Can Try

  • Include a “poison-pill” clause in your agreement to discourage the other parent from reopening the case. You can also add clauses that trigger financial responsibilities if the case is reopened.
  • Gather evidence to demonstrate that the other parent still poses a threat. It’s crucial to have documented and substantial proof; hearsay won’t suffice.
  • You can request the judge to order drug tests, hair follicle testing, substance abuse evaluations, or psychological assessments. Judges won’t order these tests without convincing evidence and documentation. Before a judge orders tests, it must be shown that there are concerns regarding drugs or mental health.
How to Get Full Custody of a Child

Termination of Parental Rights

Law firms occasionally receive requests to terminate the parental rights of the other parent. This process only happens in dependency court and is extremely challenging, often taking up to a year. In most cases, family law courts won’t terminate parental rights unless there’s a severe reason. Normally, parents can’t consent to termination except in stepparent adoptions, which also require proving abandonment or danger to the child. Terminating parental rights without the other parent’s agreement is difficult.

Law firms also receive many calls from fathers wanting to terminate their rights because mothers restrict visitation or fail to pay child support. However, courts won’t terminate parental rights just because a parent requests it unless someone else is willing to adopt the child. Step-parent adoptions are possible after parental rights termination, but the process is complex and time-consuming. It’s best to enlist the assistance of a divorce mediator to help with the paperwork and guide you through the court system.

Prioritizing Your Action List

Here is a list of important steps that parents can take to obtain sole or full custody of their child:

  • Seek guidance from a custody lawyer or a divorce mediator to clarify your desires.
  • Prioritize your goals, recognizing that complete separation from the other parent may not be feasible. Determine the actions you want to prevent and ensure they are addressed in the settlement agreement.
  • Assess how crucial sole custody is to you and your willingness to advocate for it. Expert opinions from guardians ad litem or custody assessors will be necessary for court recommendations.
  • Plan your time wisely. While financial budgets aren’t applicable here, be prepared to invest time and resources in your pursuit.
  • Explore alternative options. There may be various paths to achieving your goal.
  • Evaluate the evidence you’ve gathered to ensure it’s compelling and well-documented. Current, relevant, and documented information is crucial.

It’s crucial to act promptly while the situation is still fresh. Don’t wait for the other parent to fix the problem on their own. However, be aware that the other party might address the issue once you bring it to their attention through a petition.

Discuss your budget. You’ll need to consult experts and provide a documented history of the issues if you truly seek sole parental responsibility or time sharing. Courts won’t grant sole parental responsibility or time-sharing solely based on your perception of the other parent’s behavior. They need to see the impact on the children.

Expert witnesses and documentation of the other parent’s behavior will be necessary. Different judges may prioritize different concerns, so understanding their preferences is crucial.

The Bottom Line for Full Custody/Sole Custody

Florida courts may not actively support your pursuit of sole custody. The statutes have minimized or altered the concept. However, with the right approach, you can still achieve significant results. It’s crucial to make informed decisions and seek professional guidance, whether from a qualified child custody attorney or a knowledgeable divorce mediator, who can provide valuable insights and assistance in navigating the legal process.

While rare, obtaining sole custody is not impossible but highly challenging. You’ll need someone experienced who believes in your case and can effectively present your story. Many people may not succeed in this endeavor. However, if the other parent has a history of instability, unreliability, or substance abuse, obtaining sole custody may be feasible.

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Call Us At 727-266-2202

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