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Understanding Florida's child custody laws

Family law in Florida is designed to keep both parents involved in the child's life even after they are divorced. Courts deciding child custody cases do not give preferential treatment to one spouse over the other based on the child's gender. Joint custody is preferred in most cases unless the court decides that spending time with one of the parents would hurt the child.

When an important decision must be made that affects an aspect the child's welfare, such as health, education or religion, both parents must be equally involved in the decision-making process. If the parents cannot agree, they may be compelled to return to court so a judge can decide the matter. The court also has the authority to assign responsibility over any of these areas to only one parent.

The court must approve any parenting plan created by the spouses. If no plan can be agreed upon between the parties, the court may devise a plan that it believes is in the best interest of the child. The parenting plan must cover details such as the time-sharing schedule for joint custody, health care directives and the type of technology that may be used to communicate with the child.

Florida state law also requires both spouses to complete a parenting course before a divorce decree can become final. Depending on the circumstances of the case, a divorce court may be able to require a couple to attend courses tailored to their specific situation. Consulting a family law attorney can help the spouses understand all of the requirements they will face during their divorce.

Source: The Florida Bar, "Divorce In Florida Pamphlet", October 18, 2014

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