Custody & Visitation


When a relationship ends, children are often caught in the middle and are forced to change the routines they have become accustomed to.  Parents often struggle with deciding where the children will live and how often the children will visit with the other parent. Regardless of the difficulties the parents may have with one another personally, children should have contact with both parents – except in certain extreme circumstances. The alienation of a child from their mother or father does not serve in the child’s best interest. A knowledgeable and skilled attorney at Atherley Law Firm will be able to assist you in working out a plan that best serves your child.


Florida’s public policy encourages both parents to have frequent and continuing contact with their child and to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising their child.  In addition, parents are expected to put the needs of their child in front of their own needs.  In Florida, courts have generally replaced the term custody with shared or sole parental responsibility.  Custody, shared parental responsibility, and sole parental responsibility all refer to a parent’s responsibility for making decisions concerning their child’s education, health, and any other aspects of the child’s general welfare.  In addition, Florida courts prefer the term time-sharing as opposed to visitation.  Time-sharing or physical custody refers to the child’s physical presence with a parent.  While family courts consider a variety of issues, when it comes to matters concerning children, the number one concern is always what is in the best interest of the child.


Florida public policy places an emphasis on both parents spending as much time as possible with their child through shared parental responsibility. Shared parental responsibility allows parents to share in the day-to-day responsibilities of child rearing, unless doing so would be harmful or detrimental to the child. The goal of shared parenting is for each parent to work together to discuss and decide on major decisions affecting their child’s life.  These decisions include health insurance and medical treatment, childcare and after-school care, school selection, and religious affiliation.   In some cases, parents are able to successfully communicate and mutually agree on these decisions. In other cases, the family court will assist parents in deciding.

If a court determines that assigning shared parental responsibility may be detrimental to the child for various reasons including evidence of abuse, violence, abandonment, or neglect, a court may decide that sole parental responsibility is best for the child.  Sole parental responsibility means that one parent will be responsible for the major day-to-day decisions necessary for the child. Depending on the circumstances, the other parent may be entitled to limited or supervised visitation with the child.


Certain decisions must be made on behalf of children. Both parents should share in the responsibility of decisions made for their children.   In Florida, parents who will share time with minor children are required to have written parenting plans.  A parenting plan is a document that is developed by the parents to establish parental responsibility and a time-sharing schedule for their child.

A parenting plan puts important decisions in writing and parents can later refer to the plan to resolve any discrepancies.  The parenting plan is either agreed to by the parents, or in absence of an agreement, decided by the court. Child parenting plans can be modified as the needs and circumstances of the child changes.

When a parenting plan is created, many issues are considered including the child’s well being and the state of the relationship of the parents.  Considerations include:

  • RESIDENCE:  Where the child will reside the majority of the time and the establishment of a primary address for school registration and activities.
  • DAILY TASKS:  A plan for sharing daily parenting tasks and responsibilities.
  • COMMUNICATION:  Specification of methods and technology parents will use to communicate with the child, including methods such as phone conversations, FaceTime, and Skype.
  • TIME-SHARING SCHEDULE: Specific outline of where child will physically spend overnights including school breaks, vacations, and holidays.
  • EDUCATION & HEALTHCARE:  Parental responsibilities concerning education and healthcare decisions made on behalf of the child.
  • IMPACT ON CHILD SUPPORT:  Consideration of how child support will be affected by the amount of overnights the child spends with each parent.


A time-sharing schedule determines when and where the child will spend time with each parent. This includes where the child will spend holidays, school breaks and vacations, summers, and usually includes transportation decisions.  Parents generally desire substantial time with their child.  Florida courts try to grant time-sharing equally among parents as much as possible as long as it minimizes disruption and maintains stability for the involved child.

The goal of the time-sharing plan is to put the best interests of the child first and in writing to protect the children.  The courts take several factors into consideration when approving or establishing a time-sharing plan including:

  • Developmental needs of child at their age
  • Nature of relationship between parent and child
  • Ability of parents to communicate with one another
  • Ability of parent to encourage a positive relationship between child and other parent
  • Ability to keep other parent informed of child’s activities and events
  • Ability to provide child with daily schedules and routines
  • Ability to provide child with stability
  • Willingness to abide by child-sharing schedule
  • Preference of child (if judge determines the child is old enough)


Moving is a part of life.  However, the moving of children often presents a challenge to parents that are sharing custody of their children. Relocations can sometimes negatively impact the child and the non-moving parent’s relationship. If a parent in Florida wishes to relocate with a child more than 50 miles from the child’s principal residence, they must first obtain consent from the non-moving parent. If consent is not given, the custodial parent will likely have to submit a Petition for Relocation to the court. The family law court will then determine whether it is in the best interest of the child to move.


Usually each parent desires substantial time with the child. In some cases, supervised visitation is necessary. Supervised visitations are often put in place due to evidence of abuse, violence, abandonment, or neglect. Supervised visitation means that the child/parent contact must be supervised whenever the child visits with the parent that was not awarded sole parental responsibility. This helps to ensure the safety of the child.  Sole parental responsibility means that one parent will be responsible for the major day-to-day decisions necessary for the child.  The court often determines the level of supervision necessary.  Supervised visitations are often temporary and more frequent contact and unsupervised visits may be arranged if the parent completes specified tasks and meets certain goals. Ultimately, the court will decide what is in the best interest of the child.


The state of Florida takes the termination of parental rights very seriously. Merely deciding to sign away your parental rights, or because one parent wants the other parent’s parental rights terminated, is likely to be unsuccessful. Even if both parents agree in writing to the termination of parental rights of one parent, a family law court will likely find the termination to not be in the best interest of the child.  In some situations, if both parents consent to the termination of parental rights and a stepparent intends to adopt the child, paperwork can be filed, and the matter can be heard in court. Generally, a Florida dependency court as opposed to a Florida family law court has the responsibility of terminating parental rights.


If you need guidance relating to custody, time-sharing, or establishing a visitation schedule, we are here to help.  Our office is located in downtown Orlando, and we serve clients in Orange County, Osceola County and the surrounding areas. For a free initial consultation, call us today at (407) 459-7046, contact us online, or schedule your own consultation.

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