Sole Custody in Florida: How It Works
First things first – there is no “sole custody” in Florida. What used to be sole custody before 2011 is now referred to a “sole parental responsibility.”
Sole parental responsibility is a parenting plan that awards exclusive physical and legal custody of a child or children to one dependable parent. In Florida, Family Courts handle most proceedings involving children. If you want to have sole parental responsibility over your children, it will almost always require a custody trial.
Because of this, you will almost certainly want to hire an experienced Florida family attorney to help you win the case. It will be their job to give the court compelling evidence that the other parent isn’t fit to raise a child.
Of course, it’s not quite that straightforward or simple. Sole custody in our state is rare, and courts prefer to share parental responsibility if at all possible.
To have the best chance at winning your case, you need to have an understanding of how custody laws have evolved and what circumstances make it more likely for someone to be awarded sole parental responsibility under current statutes.
A Short History of Child Custody Law
When most people think about a parent getting “sole custody” today, they imagine the mother taking care of the children while the father is pushed out of the picture. However, it wasn’t always this way.
At the birth of our country, America followed English Common Law, in which fathers retained the right to physical custody of their children after divorce. In fact, colonial mothers didn’t have any enforceable legal rights in matters of child custody.
Things began changing in the early 20th century when the “tender years” presumption argued that mothers were better suited to raising children – especially younger children – than fathers. So strong was this belief that mothers were awarded exclusive custody of young children for many decades.
In the years after the 1960s, the pendulum swung back the other way, and more gender-neutral custody standards were slowly adopted. They were born out of a social revolution that was provoked by lengthy debates about gender equality, parental roles, and custodial privileges.
Today, Family Courts have the judicial discretion to decide custody cases based not on the parent’s desire but the child’s best interests. Florida’s judicial system believes that there’s a need for a child to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents. Because of this, our courts are predisposed to favor shared custodial arrangements over sole custody.
What does this mean for you? Basically, that you need to make a truly compelling case if you want to show that your child’s other parent should not be in the picture and you should be granted sole parental responsibility.
How do you do this?
When Do Florida Courts Award Sole Parental Responsibility?
Quite simply, you may obtain sole parental responsibility in Florida by proving that the other parent is extremely unfit to raise a child. Some of the circumstances that may qualify one as an unfit parent include:
- Abuse, endangerment, and/or neglect toward the child.
- Alcohol or drug abuse.
- Having severe mental illness and/or mental instability.
- Extreme financial instability.
- The parent is living with a new partner, and the court has reason to believe that the new partner is an unfit parent.
- Any other circumstances that jeopardize the wellbeing and normal development of the child.
Effectively arguing these things about your child’s other parent will require both an understanding of how parental responsibility in Florida works and clear documentation regarding the specific issue or issues you believe make them unfit to be around your child.