The winds of change are blowing as the latest equal timesharing bill, CS/HB 1395, moves through Tallahassee. Many parents, lawyers, psychologists and other experts wonder whether Florida will start requiring equal timesharing in all child custody cases.
It seems as if each new Florida legislative season has turned into a new hurricane season, dropping invasive lobbyists into Tallahassee to change our native, home-grown child custody and alimony laws.
Not surprisingly, once again the equal timesharing bill is hidden inside an alimony reform bill. Regarding alimony, Florida currently recognizes five main types of alimony: temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, and permanent.
In determining the type, amount, duration, and later modification or termination of an alimony award, the court has broad discretion but may only award alimony after initially determining that one spouse needs alimony and the other spouse is able to pay alimony.
For alimony purposes, this year’s House Bill increases presumptions relating to the length of a marriage, changes the types of alimony available, prohibits an award of alimony if the payor has met certain requirements for retirement before filing for divorce and prohibits an award of permanent alimony.
But few people – other than the experts and lawyers studying the bill – know that the alimony reform bill also creates a presumption that equal timesharing is in the best interest of a minor child. If passed, House Bill 1395, would codify into law a presumption of 50/50 timesharing between divorced parents. While this sounds fair, it poses a real risk to children.
I’ve written on the legislative efforts to change to an equal timesharing state before. Historically, Florida courts have consistently ruled that a parent’s desire and right to the companionship, care, custody, and management of his or her children is an important interest that warrants deference and, absent a powerful countervailing interest, protection.
Florida law provides broad guidelines to assist courts in determining parenting and time-sharing of children based on the best interests of the child standard. It has been the public policy of Florida that each child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after separation or divorce, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.
To meet that state policy, there has not been a presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific timesharing schedule when creating or modifying the parenting plan of the child, and no presumption in favor of a specific time-sharing schedule when the parties are unable to agree.
Just as each divorce is unique, and is treated in a unique way, each timesharing schedule for a family is treated in a unique way for that family. By taking each case individually, you have a better chance of creating a parenting plan that best fits the children involved.
Winds of Change?
But now Florida is facing a Category 5 change. House Bill 1395 amends Florida law to create a presumption that equal time-sharing (commonly referred to as “50/50 time-sharing”) is in the best interests of a minor child common to both parties unless otherwise agreed to by the parties. This would be for every case, instead of the case-by-case basis looking into the details of what is best for kids.
This year’s legislative session started on January 11, 2022 and is scheduled to wrap up on March 11, 2022. The bill provides an effective date of July 1, 2022.
The Tallahassee Democrat article is here.