Florida just released major new updates to our child custody and timesharing laws. With these new releases, family lawyers can expect a presumption in favor of a equal timesharing, some bug fixes, and overall improvements to enhance your user experience.
Florida Child Custody and Timesharing
Florida courts have consistently ruled that a parent’s right to the care and custody of his or her child is an important interest that is given deference unless there is some powerful countervailing interest requiring the child’s protection. Each parent also has responsibilities for their children, including supervision, health and safety, education, care, and protection.
Child custody in Florida is broken down into two distinct components: parental responsibility (which is decision-making) and timesharing (physical custody and visitation rights). Both components must be incorporated into a “parenting plan.”
Although the right to integrity of the family is among one of the most fundamental rights, when parents divorce or separate, the parents’ rights are subject to the overriding concern for the ultimate welfare their children. We call this, the “best interest” test.
Florida did not have a presumption in favor of any specific timesharing schedule. In establishing timesharing, the court always considered the best interests of the child and evaluated all factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the family.
What’s new in the latest release?
One of the latest updates just released is a new presumption in favor of equal timesharing for both parents. According to the release notes:
There is a rebuttable presumption that equal time-sharing of a minor child is in the best interests of the minor child. To rebut this presumption, a party must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that equal timesharing is not in the best interests of the minor child. Except when a time-sharing schedule is agreed to by the parties and approved by the court, the court must evaluate all of the factors set forth in subsection (3) and make specific written findings of fact schedule when creating or modifying a timesharing schedule.
With this new update, Florida has created a rebuttable presumption that equal timesharing is in the best interest of the child at issue. As such, a court must operate under the rebuttable presumption in favor of equal timesharing when creating or modifying a parenting plan.
In order to overcome the new law’s rebuttable presumption, a party must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that equal timesharing is not in the best interests of the minor child.
The new law still generally requires a court to evaluate all factors listed under the statute, however now it requires the court to provide written findings of fact for such factors.
A new bug fix is an update to the procedure for modification of parenting plans. Generally, a court may only modify a parenting plan and timesharing schedule after a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances has been established.
The requirement for a substantial change in circumstances promotes finality in family cases, and reflects the general belief that stability is good for children. The test to modify timesharing of a minor child is to prove circumstances have substantially and materially changed since the original custody determination; the change was not reasonably contemplated by the parties; and the child’s best interests justify changing custody.
Demonstrating a substantial change in circumstances is an extraordinary burden on users. But the burden was a design feature not a flaw. The heavy burden is intended to preclude parties from continually disrupting the lives of children by initiating repeated custody disputes.
However, when there have been significant changes affecting the well-being of the child, especially when the change of circumstances has occurred over a substantial period of time, changes may be necessary.
The new update streamlines the modification experience by removing the requirement that a party who demonstrates the alleged substantial and material change in circumstances which warrants modification of a parenting plan or timesharing schedule, must also demonstrate that the change be unanticipated.
Another bug fix attempts to streamline the user’s relocation experience. There is currently no presumption in favor of or against a request to relocate with a child when the relocation will materially affect the current timesharing and contact with the other parent.
But simply relocating alone was not considered a substantial change in circumstances to warrant modification. If you were the user seeking to modify timesharing, you still had to overcome the substantial change test before a court could address the modification.
In custody disputes involving the relocation of a parent, courts generally conclude that the relocation does not amount to a substantial change if the relocation is not a significant distance away from the child’s current location. As such, a parent’s relocation alone is not considered a sufficient to trigger a modification of timesharing and custody under current law.
Under the new law, if the parents of a child live more than 50 miles apart when the last order establishing time-sharing is entered, and a parent subsequently moves within 50 miles of the other parent, then that move may be considered a substantial and material change in circumstances for the purpose of modifying the time-sharing schedule.
The move does not need to be unanticipated to warrant a modification of the time-sharing schedule. However, modification of the time-sharing schedule may not be permitted if the modification is not in the best interests of the child after an analysis of the statutory factors.
The new statutory amendments are here.
Version 61.13 will be available July 1st.