Effective on July 1, 2023, the legislature passed significant changes to the law regarding time-sharing with minor children by married or unmarried parents. The new law applies to all pending cases in which the court has not previously entered a final time-sharing order.
Time-sharing refers to how many overnights with the child(ren) each parent may be awarded by the court. The percentage of time-sharing that each parent is awarded not only determines the number of overnights but is a significant factor in determining the amount of child support payable by either parent under Florida’s child support guidelines (the formula that must be used to calculate child support pursuant to Florida Statutes).
As a result of the new change, the court will initially presume that a 50/50 division of parenting time is in a child’s best interests. In other words, unless rebutted by other evidence, the court must award equal time-sharing to both parents.
What Happens if One Party Challenges the 50/50 Division?
To overcome the presumption that a parent is entitled to equal (50-50%) time-sharing (182.5 overnights a year each), a party must prove that equal timesharing is not in the best interests of the minor child(ren) and is detrimental to the child(ren). Except when a time-sharing schedule is agreed to by the parties and approved by the court, the court must evaluate all of the factors set forth in the new law and make specific written findings of fact if the court orders unequal time-sharing, including, but not limited to:
1. The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.
2. The extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.
3. The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.
4. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
5. Whether a parent has been convicted of a misdemeanor of the first degree or higher involving domestic violence
6. A history of spousal or child abuse
7. Each parent’s physical and mental health
8. The preference(s) of the child(ren) if mature enough to have a valid opinion
9. Any other factor that affects the best interests of the child
While the new law is clearly intended to make 50-50 time-sharing the legal presumptive starting point in the evaluation of the “best interests” of the child(ren), the passage of time and appellate decisions will further clarify the effect of the new law on pending time-sharing disputes and how difficult it will be to overcome the presumption.
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