Updated: 2021-09-23 by
Florida courts use the "best interest of the child" standard to make child custody decisions. Specifically, judges refer to Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3), which says:
For purposes of establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan . . . the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.
How Florida Judges Make Child Custody Decisions
The law directs judges to consider the following long list of factors:
- the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required
- the anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the custody case, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to people other than the parents
- the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent
- the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
- the geographic viability of the parenting plan, paying attention to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling
- the moral fitness of the parents
- the mental and physical health of the parents
- the home, school, and community record of the child
- the reasonable preference of the child, if the court finds the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference
- the demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the child's circumstances, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things
- the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime
- the demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of the child's issues and activities, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child
- evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether there has been legal action relating to those issues
- evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any legal action related to domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect
- the particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the custody case began, including the extent to which parental responsibilities were delegated to people other than the parents
- the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities
- the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse
- the capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing custody case as demonstrated by not discussing the case with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the case with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child
- the developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.
Florida law gives judges a lot of flexibility to make custody determinations; they are not limited to considering the factors listed here but may expand their inquiry to any issue they believe is relevant to creating a parenting plan in the best interest of the child.
Court Should be Your Last Resort
Going to court to get custody of a child will be stressful for you and, worse, tough on the children. Also, because judges have so much flexibility to make custody decisions, it leaves the family vulnerable to the biased opinions of individual judges. For these reasons and more, a court case is something to pursue only if all other options—like negotiation and mediation—have failed. Take advantage of all the resources available to you for creating a parenting plan before subjecting yourself and your kids to a court battle.
Studying the law. This article summarizes the key factors courts use to make custody decisions in Florida. That said, family law is a complicated subject and laws do change. We recommend that you read the official version of Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3), available from the Florida State Legislature.
Working with a lawyer. If you’re working with a lawyer, mediator, or both, ask them for help understanding how Florida law applies to your specific circumstances.
Finding your local family court. In Florida, family law cases are handled in the county circuit courts. Be sure to take advantage of the self-help resources your court offers.
You may also be interested in:
Know the basics of how to get custody of a child in Florida, from the best interests of the child to child custody mediation and going to family court.
Know how joint physical custody and joint legal custody work in Florida so you can create the best parenting plan for your family.
Answers to common questions about Florida custody enforcement, including whether police will enforce a custody order.