I am Pam Masters. I am a collaborative family lawyer and mediator. I guide couple on the difficult journey of divorce without court involvement. I do this to protect children, preserve financial assets and obtain better outcomes for my clients.
So, what’s the deal with full custody in Florida? Well, first, Florida does not recognize the concept of “custody” anymore. In Florida, the idea of custody is broken down into two separate components:
Parental responsibility and time sharing.
Parental responsibility is about making major decisions about the children and the public policy in Florida is that parents will do that together –what we call shared parental responsibility.
Time sharing is about the schedule for which the children will spend time with each parent.
Those two concepts together make up what we used to call custody. So, can one parent get “full custody” of the children; that is sole parental decision-making and all of the time with the children? Probably not. You see the strong public policy of the state is that children have the benefit of a robust relationship with both parents and that both parent share equally in the joys and responsibilities of child rearing. This means that absent compelling evidence, the court is likely to award shared parental responsibility and more or less equal time-sharing with each parent. Every case is unique, of course, and what the judge did in one case or what one family or another is doing is not relevant to your family or your situation.
If you want “full custody” (sole parental responsibility of your children) what you are telling the court is that the other parent poses an imminent threat of harm to the children. You basically have to prove abuse, abandonment or neglect. And here’s the thing: the judge, who oversees hundreds of cases and may have presided over thousands during his or her time on the bench, has a very wide and deep perspective. He or she sees the very worst of parenting and the very best of parenting.
So, what you consider to be “abuse” or “neglect” is not likely to seem so extreme (of course depending upon what it is!) from the judge’s perspective. Let me be clear here—we are not talking about drug use disorders, domestic violence or other criminal or dangerous behavior. But I hear every day from outraged parents about the awful things the other parent is doing to children. And these anguished parents seem to feel that what is going on is as bad as something that is clearly dangerous or deleterious to children. However, many, many times, those “awful” things, while truly upsetting to the parent recounting them, are not objectively awful in the legal sense. I am sure it will come as no surprise that different people parent differently. And some parents feel passionately that their way is preferable and that the other parent’s way is abusive. But when I dig a little deeper, I often find that the parenting differences are differences in values around things like what foods are healthy, how much screen time is appropriate, what consequences for bad behavior are appropriate, how late should a child be staying up or sleeping in, things like taking away the cell phone at bedtime, restricting junk foods-you get the idea.
As a parent, I completely understand how passionate we can feel about some of these issues. As a family law lawyer, I can assure that none of them rise to the level of justifying sole parental responsibility and no or minimal or supervised timesharing. As a parent I completely understand the worry that can accompany things like unsupervised social media consumption. As a family law lawyer, I can assure you that this is not something that will cause a judge to deprive a parent of rights or responsibilities for their children.
The hard truth is that every parent gets to parent how they parent. Is it best for the kids that the parents have consistency across households about things like bedtimes, whether the cell phone will go to bed with the kids, what social media apps the kids will have access to, consequences for the breaking of rules—even some of the rules themselves—yes, beyond any question, consistency between homes is best. But it is not always possible or not possible about every issue.
The most discordant co-parenting happens after an adversarial process where one or both parents are trying to portray the other as unfit in some way. This leads to a lack of information sharing, the kids becoming secret keepers and no communication about consistency so no possibility of agreement. This harms children.
The best co-parenting relationships emerge from a collaborative divorce, where an open conversation about parenting styles and new family structures occurs in a safe environment. All of a parent’s concerns can be addressed with a neutral expert who will guide the conversation and the decision making around the parenting plan. Choose collaborative—for your kid’s sake!