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How Does A Court Determine The Best Interest of the Child?

determining best interest of the child in Florida

In previous posts, we talked about how a Judge crafts a parenting plan. Judges look at Florida law, under which there are factors used to determine a child’s best interest. Florida Statute 61.13(3)(a-l) were discussed in detail. In this post, the next factors, more specifically Florida Statute 61.13 (m-t), are listed below and discussed:

(m) Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child.

(n) Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

(o) The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.

(p) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.

(q) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.

(r) The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.

(s) The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.

(t) Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.

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Subsection (m) requires the Court to look at evidence of domestic violence and/or sexual violence such as injunctions or arrests; child abuse, child abandonment, and/or child neglect such as Department of Children and Families reports; or any witness testimony of such evidence such as testimony from children’s therapists or teachers.

Subsection (n) examines evidence where a parent has provided false information to the Court about any of these issues.

Subsection (o) is a chance for parents to show who normally cared for the minor children before a divorce or custody case and what parenting tasks they did. If third parties such as daycare or family members cared for the children, then the Court wants to know that.

Subsection (p) requires parents to present evidence of the children’s school and extracurricular activities and who is involved in those activities. Who primarily talks to the children’s teachers and takes an active role in the children’s activities?

Subsection (q) requires parents to be free from substance abuse and keep the children sheltered from any substance abuse issues. This subsection can refer to legal prescription drugs or illegal drugs, as well as alcohol. Drug screens, breathalyzers, and substance abuse evaluations may be potential evidence regarding this factor.

Subsection (r) means that the Court wants to see that the parents are not trying to discuss the case with the children and “turn” the children against the other parent. Sharing Court documents or social media with a child is very detrimental to the child’s well-being. Disparaging a parent to a child is strongly discouraged and judges do not like to see that taking place.

Subsection (s) is all about what the needs of the child are such as tutoring, IEP or 504 plans, special education, etc. The Court wants to see which parent is most capable to meet those needs.

Subsection (t) is any other factor that is relevant to a parenting plan and to the children. Are there any reasons why a particular schedule would not work?

Taken altogether, these factors help the Court decide what is in a child’s best interest and how to craft a time-sharing schedule and parenting plan that works for the individual needs of that family.

Wendy Norman is a family law and divorce attorney in Jacksonville, FL.

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