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New Florida Custody Laws

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Everyone (including divorce attorneys) agrees that divorces are unpleasant at best and destructive at worst. One of the most destructive battlegrounds lies in the area of custody and visitation between parents and their children. Commencing October 1, 2008, the State of Florida takes a step to attempt to lessen this type of conflict.

Effective October 1, 2008 Florida statutes have abolished the use of the words “custody” and “visitation” in all family law actions.

Instead of “primary residential” parenting or custody, Florida statutes will use the term “shared parental responsibility”. Instead of the word “visitation”, Florida statutes and judges and divorce attorneys are required to use the word “time-sharing”.

Across the country, states are attempting to make divorces more therapeutic and less traumatizing for the children and parents involved in such cases. Florida is one of the few states that have enacted the statute abolishing the customary terms “custody” and “visitation”. The results of this change remain to be seen.

It is hoped that the statutory changes will cause battling parents in family law cases to diminish their fighting and attempt to cooperate more with each other for the benefit of the children. However, the “jury” has not yet returned on what will be the actual effect.

At the very least, this change will result in a transitional stage to cause individuals to start thinking about their children in a less proprietary fashion. A more cynical view would indicate that this statute really changes nothing. Parties will continue to fight for more time with their children (particularly when a party with more contact time will receive more child support).

A potentially more important change is the requirement that judges, attorneys, and parties draft more detailed and robust parenting plans. Parenting plans have become far more detailed involving all issues of the children in their daily lives, in communication between the parents and the children, and other activities concerning the children.

Previously, when the Marital Settlement Agreement and/or Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage have been vague in details in terms of children’s issues, friction and court litigation were likely to continue at the same rate or at an even greater rate.

Consequently, the immediate impact of this statute may be to lessen the amount of micromanaging litigation that goes on while the parties attempt to hammer out the finer details of issues concerning their children and their interactions with children, which were not adequately addressed in the original court proceedings.

Florida has stepped boldly into a “brave new world”. Immediately, and ultimately, these changes should work for the benefit of Florida’s children and their parents.

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