What You Need To Know About Filing For Child Custody in Florida

Filing for child custody can be a long and complex legal process. Here’s how to file for child custody in Florida.

Florida Statute 61.13 outlines the child custody process. Floridian courts will enforce child custody guidelines and laws to ensure the child’s best interests.

What is Child Custody in Florida?

Child custody gives a parent(s) legal rights and responsibilities to care for a child(ren) through a custody order issued by a Florida court. Judges must decide the amount of time-sharing and parental responsibility that each parent has for the child(ren).

Time-sharing, or parenting time, is a parent’s time with a child. Judges can issue equal parenting time (where a child splits time with parents evenly) or give one parent more parenting time (where a child lives with one parent primarily).

Parents may lose parenting time if a court finds evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, abandonment, and neglect. A judge may also order supervised visitation. Parents must follow all the terms and provisions that a time-sharing agreement outlines.

Parental responsibility allows a parent(s) to make legal decisions about a child’s care. Major decisions can include medical, religious, educational, or legal decisions for a child. While Floridian judges try to divide parental responsibility evenly, a judge may award one parent sole parental responsibility if it is in the child’s best interests.

If a judge splits parental responsibility evenly, a judge must still designate one parent as the custodial parent and the other as the noncustodial parent. Custodial parents may have more parenting time than the other and have the final say on decisions involving the child.

Related: Do Sperm Donors Pay Child Support in Florida?

Child Custody Laws in Florida

Florida Statute 61.13 outlines the child custody process in Florida courts. Judges should try to give parents equal rights and custody over their children. If it is in the child’s best interests, judges should allow a child to have contact with both parents.

Filing for Child Custody in Florida

1. File a petition

Parents can file a petition to open a child custody case with their local county clerk’s office. Petitioners must file numerous forms to open a case, and all documents should be typed or printed in black ink and require the petitioner to sign in front of the county clerk or notary public.

The petitioner must also prove they have been a Florida resident for six months. Acceptable forms of identification include a driver’s license, state I.D. card, or voter registration card.

2. Pay filing fees

After filing a petition, the petitioner must pay filing and administrative fees before serving the petition. These fees range from $300 to $500 a petition and do not include service fees.

3. Serve child custody petition to the other parent

Petitioners must serve the other parent the child custody petition. The sheriff’s office or a private processing server can provide the service of papers. The price ranges depending on the county.

4. Wait for the other parent to file a response

The parent receiving the petition, also known as the respondent, has 20 days to file a response or ask for an extension. The respondent can choose to either contest or challenge the petition, or file an uncontested response, meaning they agree with all the information in the petition.

Regardless of how the respondent files, they can add a counter-petition to request something additional to the petition or propose an alternative to a provision within the petition.

The respondent must serve the petitioner with their response. If the parent does not respond within the deadline, the petitioner can file a Motion for Default. If the judge approves your motion, the case proceeds without the other parent’s involvement.

5. Court proceedings

Parents can move on to the settlement process after the court receives all petitions and responses. However, if a party contests the petition, a judge will order parents to attend a mediation session to settle any disputes.

Parents must submit a proposed parenting plan to outline time-sharing and parental responsibilities for a judge to review during the settlement process. If both parents agree on a parenting plan, they can submit one plan to the judge for review.

Related: Establishing Paternity in Florida

Florida Child Custody Forms

During the petition stage of the child custody process, petitioners must file multiple forms, including:

In addition to these forms, petitioners may also have to file other documents depending on their circumstances.

Parents who want to open a divorce or separation case with a child custody case must complete a Petition for Dissolution with Dependent or Minor Child(ren). If a parent plans to move more than 50 miles away following the divorce, parents must complete the Petition for Dissolution with Dependent or Minor Child(ren) and Relocation instead.

Separated parents can request to open a child custody and child support case by completing a Petition for Support and Parenting Plan Unconnected with Dissolution with Dependent or Minor Child(ren).

Parents who are not married but want to open a child custody case must complete the Petition to Determine Paternity and Related Relief. Unmarried parents must complete this form even if paternity is not in question.

Parents can also file the following temporary court orders during the case:

A motion for temporary support asks a judge to issue a temporary court order on parental responsibility, time-sharing, and childcare expenses until the judge comes to a final decision.

Parents who are worried for their or their child’s public safety can file for an order of protection, also known as a restraining order, or a petition to keep their address confidential.

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If you or a loved one would like to learn more about how to File for Child Custody in Florida, get your free consultation with one of our Child Custody Attorneys in Florida today!