Child Custody Representation

Child Custody Representation

Custody is the legal right to take care of a child, also a person's legal right to care, control, guard, and keep a minor child. Unmarried biological mothers have certain custody rights automatically, but a unmarried biological fathers and divorcing couples must obtain a custody order by a court that will define the amount of time each party will spend with a child or who gets to make major decisions about the child.

Scott & Fenderson, PLLC assists clients with custody cases throughout Florida. In some cases, clients seek our help in representing themselves (Pro Se) in custody cases. Pro Se means that you do not have a lawyer and are choosing to represent yourself in a legal proceeding. Florida laws and rules can be complex and oftentimes confusing if you do not have background or training in the law. In addition, there are often numerous complex forms and pleadings that must be filed, deadlines that must be met, and rules of procedure that must be followed. For these reasons, it is always best to consult with an attorney and utilize a lawyer to represent you in a family law case.

For those who simply cannot afford legal representation, packets with instructions and forms for Pro Se litigants are available through the Clerk of Court in each county for most or all of following types of actions: adult adoption, stepparent adoption, dissolution of marriage, establish visitation, establish paternity, temporary custody, temporary support connected or unconnected with dissolution of marriage; modify alimony, child support, custody or visitation; enforcement of court orders on family issues; name change for child, adult or family. You will find links at the bottom of this page to each of the county clerks in the first circuit. Some counties will have all the packets and forms on the website, and some will not. If they do not have the packets, you will need to go to your county clerk’s office to purchase the appropriate packets, forms and/or instructions.

To help you better understand some of the terms used in a custody case, here are a few important descriptions to know...

Types of Custody

Legal Custody

Custody is the legal right to take care of a child, also a person's legal right to care, control, guard, and keep a minor child. Custody is distinguished from parental responsibility which means making important decisions such as where the child will go to school, what religion he or she is exposed to, and any and all medical decisions. Normally parental responsibility is shared unless there is a good reason for only one parent to be making important decisions.

Physical Custody

Refers to where the child resides most of the time, or spends most of the over nights. In recent years, Florida has moved away from the use of the term "custody" and instead refers to "time sharing". The Florida Supreme court now requires that custody cases include a "time sharing plan" that specifies the over nights the children will spend with each parent, right down to holidays, birthdays, summer break, etc.

Relocation

One of the most common conflicts to arise when dealing with child custody is when one parent wants to relocate with the child. It may be the case that the custodial parent has a career opportunity or a new relationship that leads them to a distant location. When this type of situation occurs, there are several legal considerations to take into account.

In Florida, if a parent wishes to relocate a child more than 50 miles from the other parent, the relocating parent must comply with the Florida Relocation Statute. This requires filing the appropriate pleadings

with the court, and serving a copy upon the opposing parent. If the opposing parent files and objection then both parties must appear before a judge who will then decide whether to grant the relocation request.

First and foremost, the "best interest of the child" standard always applies in any custodial proceedings, and really in any dispute that will affect the welfare of the child. With the issue of relocation, the burden is always on the relocating parent to show that the move serves the best interest of the child.

In addition to the "best interest of the child" standard, the court factors in several other aspects when considering relocation matters. If the child is both old enough and mature enough to comprehend the decision, then his or her opinion may be taken into account. Also, a move that is over a shorter distance will be more likely to receive the court's approval than a move that is across the county. Another obvious consideration is the actual reason for the move. If the parent is moving because of a great career opportunity, the likelihood that the court will show approval is higher than if the move is primarily to suit the relocating parent’s new romantic relationship.

A relocating parent should do everything in his or her power to accommodate the non-relocating parent. Courts do not look favorably upon deceit and withholding information in situations like this. Because the court is primarily concerned with the child's well being, the relocating parent needs to have a plan for the child in the proposed, new location involving schools, day care, and most importantly, the means to maintain contact with the non-relocating parent.

Because of the variable nature of child custody battles, there is never a general answer that can be applied to every situation. There are many free Florida resources that can help you better educate yourself concerning how to approach your particular situation.

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