Divorce and Child Custody Laws in Florida

Divorces and relationship breakups are the most stressful life experiences for people in the United States. Given how emotionally taxing a divorce can be, having a better understanding of the laws and processes involved in a divorce or issues regarding parenting can help you make important decisions like choosing the best family law attorney for you. Here is essential, need-to-know information about how divorce and child custody are handled in the Florida courts.

What You Need To Prove To Dissolve Your Marriage in Florida

The first thing you need to know when you look at divorce and child custody in Florida is that the term used for divorce in the state is a dissolution of marriage, and child custody is referred to as parenting issues or timesharing and parental responsibility. In the past, parties had to demonstrate fault to grant divorces. However, now all you or your partner needs to do to get a dissolution of marriage is prove the following factors:

  1. you or your spouse (whoever is filing) has been a resident of Florida for six months prior to filing a petition for dissolution of marriage;
  2. you are validly married (you and your spouse are over 18 and mentally competent); and
  3. your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

4 Steps Of The Court’s Dissolution Process

Marriage Dissolution Cases involving dissolution of marriage or parenting issues begin with the submission of a petition. Through the Florida court system, you can file for dissolution of marriage (forms available here) in one of two ways: Simplified Dissolution of Marriage or Regular Dissolution of Marriage, depending on your individual situation.

Regular dissolution of marriage

Here are the basic steps for regular dissolution, the most common of the two approaches:

Step 1 — One of the two spouses must file a petition for dissolution of marriage at a county circuit court. It can be filed in the county where you currently live or in the county where the two of you most recently lived while together. The petitioner (the spouse filing the petition) establishes the factors listed above and includes any other requests of the Court they have, such as requests for alimony, timesharing, parental responsibility, and child support.

Step 2 — Once the non-petitioning spouse (aka the Respondent) is served, they have 20 days to file a response to each of the petition points. A response, also called the answer, admits or denies the claims in the petition. A counter-petition listing other matters or requests not mentioned in the original petition can be filed at this time as well.

Step 3 — You and your spouse must each submit a financial affidavit, along with key financial paperwork, called “mandatory disclosures” within 45 days of the service of the petition.

Step 4 — At or before any hearing determining child support, you must file a child support guidelines worksheet with the court. When children are involved in a divorce, either parent can submit their requested timesharing schedule and parental responsibility to the court through a parenting plan.

Simplified Dissolution Of Marriage

Dissolution of marriage actions can also take a simplified path in certain instances. You or your spouse can pursue a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage if you meet the following criteria: there are no minor children common to you and your spouse; neither you nor your spouse is requesting alimony; all of your property is already divided, or you and your spouse agree on the division of property, and you and your spouse are willing to waive your right to a trial and appeal. If you do not meet all of these criteria, you cannot file a simplified dissolution of marriage action.

Alimony & Property Division

Property DivisionWhen you are involved in the dissolution process, parenting issues like timesharing and child support are only a few of the issues you need to consider. You also must consider alimony and property division.

Either of the two parties in a marriage dissolution can request, possibly be granted, alimony. The court can establish lump-sum payments, periodic payments, or both for any alimony awards.

In order to be awarded alimony, you must show that you have a need for the support, the other party has the ability to pay support, and your marriage is the required length for the alimony you are seeking. Florida defines marriages that are 2-7 years long as short-term, marriages from 7-17 years long as moderate-term, and marriages 17 years or longer as long-term marriages.

Alimony comes in five forms:

  1. Bridge-the-gap alimony — short-term financial assistance for two years or less;
  2. Durational alimony — temporary support for an established period after a marriage of short or moderate length;
  3. Permanent alimony — permanent payments to the receiving spouse; and
  4. Rehabilitative alimony — payments intended to allow the receiving party to get training or redevelop skills for self-sufficiency.
  5. Alimony Pendente lite—alimony granted during or for the duration of the court proceeding.

Florida follows the P.E.A.C.E. acronym in family law cases. This means a Court will first address parenting issues like timesharing and parental responsibility, then equitable distribution, then alimony, then child support, and finally all other pending issues. As an equitable distribution state, property distribution in a Florida divorce must be fair and equitable. Remember, though, that equitable does not necessarily mean that your assets will be split 50/50.

What You Need to Know About Florida Child Custody & Child Support Laws

Florida Child Custody Laws

The first important fact to know is that Florida does not use the terms “custody” or “visitation” anymore, rather Florida uses the terms parental responsibility and timesharing. Second, unless exceptional circumstances exist, a child is any person under the age of 18.

So how do the Florida Courts handle family law cases involving children? Typically, the Courts establish parental responsibility and timesharing through a parenting plan.

As of July 1, 2023, significant legislative changes have further refined how these matters are addressed in court, particularly with the enactment of laws CS/SB 1416 and CS/HB 1301.

Under these new guidelines, Florida law has introduced a presumption of 50/50 time-sharing between parents, signaling a pivotal shift towards equal parenting. This presumption applies to new divorce or child custody cases and when existing orders are subject to modification. The intent is to ensure that both parents remain actively involved in their children’s lives, promoting a balanced upbringing, unless evidence is presented that this arrangement is not in the child’s best interests.

Additionally, CS/HB 1301, known as the Parenting and Time-sharing of Minor Children Bill, simplifies the modification process for custody and time-sharing agreements. It removes the necessity for parents to demonstrate an unanticipated change in circumstances, allowing for adjustments to parenting plans to more readily reflect the evolving needs and best interests of the child.

Parental Responsibility vs. Timesharing

Timesharing refers to the schedule or amount of time that the child spends with each parent during the year. Timesharing can happen in a multitude of schedules and manners, depending on the individual facts in each case. Parental Responsibility refers to either or both parents’ ability to make decisions regarding the child’s education, health, and religion. Parental responsibility can be shared or sole.

With the enactment of CS/SB 1416 and CS/HB 1301 on July 1, 2023, Florida law now embraces a presumption of 50/50 time-sharing, aiming to ensure that children benefit from equal involvement and nurturing from both parents whenever feasible.

Shared Parental Responsibility vs. Sole Parental Responsibility

In Florida, the Courts must award shared parental responsibility unless it is clearly shown that shared responsibility is not in the child’s best interest or detrimental to the child. Shared parental responsibility means that all key decisions must be approved by both parties.

If a party can prove that shared responsibility is not in the child’s best interests or is detrimental to the child’s well-being, a court may award sole parental responsibility. This means that only one parent has the ability to make key decisions for the child.

Other Florida Essentials Regarding Children

You don’t have to be seeking a dissolution of marriage to establish timesharing or parental responsibility. Whether you are starting the dissolution process or separating from another parent to whom you have never been married, Florida laws determining children and parenting issues will apply. These laws help judges determine appropriate timesharing schedules and parental responsibility.

In Florida, all decisions involving children must be in the child’s best interests, and they must comply with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

Florida Child Support Laws

Child support determinations take into account each parent’s net income (gross minus qualifying expenses), as well as the number of children involved.

The Florida Child Support Guidelines establish how a court must calculate child support for any case. The guidelines require parents to complete Child Support Guidelines Worksheets once they have submitted income and expense affidavits. A child support guidelines worksheet actually lay out the calculations required by the law so that parents and the court can easily ensure they reach the correct child support amount.

For example, for someone with two children and a monthly net income of $2,500, the base child support amount is approximately $847. The actual child support amount could be adjusted based on various factors, such as health insurance costs for the children, any childcare expenses related to employment, and any special needs the children may have.

The final child support amount is determined by adding or subtracting these expenses and adjustments to the base amount of $847. If the parent pays $100 monthly for health insurance and $200 for childcare, these costs would increase the base support obligation, subject to the court’s final determination.

Prior to calculating child support, the parents must file a Financial Affidavit that lists out monthly income, expenses, and deductions. Examples of allowable deductible expenses are mandatory retirement plans, mandatory union dues, and health insurance payments.

Dissolution of Marriage and Parenting Issues Expertise

If you are considering ending your marriage, don’t compound your stress with the challenges of navigating the legal process alone. Beyond information on dissolution and parenting issue laws, you deserve caring, personalized attention during this stressful time; a family law attorney can provide all of that. At Golden Key Law Group, we truly appreciate the privilege of being servants for the St. Petersburg and Pinellas County communities. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.