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Lawmakers propose a more specific time-sharing presumption

When it comes to child custody, the golden rule is to do what is in the best interest of the child or children involved. But the phrase "best interest" can be a loaded one. Not too long ago, the presumption was that children belonged with their mothers the majority of the time.

As societal views have changed, women began working more and fathers became more involved with their children's lives, custody cases have become somewhat more balanced than they were back in the "old days."

A more even focus

Florida courts currently use a 20 point system that weighs different factors that affect custody arrangements, such as school and work schedules. More often, custody arrangements are closer to 50/50 than they once were, but in Florida, it hasn't been the statutory default. A proposed bill aims to change this. While the primary consideration would remain the "best interests of the child," the new law includes specific language that "approximately equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is presumed to be in the best interests of the child." If it becomes law, the courts will officially have a goal to get parenting responsibilities divided in half, or as close to half as possible.

Proponents of the bill say that it should foster better communication between the child's parents following a break up or divorce. It recognizes that it should be presumed that both parents have an equal value in a child's life, unless there is some extenuating circumstance that proves otherwise.

Communication between parents is a major goal of the bill. It asks that parents keep one another informed not only on major issues, such as medical issues or religion. but on the small stuff as well, such as discipline strategies, homework schedules, and even meals.

Is the change needed?

Critics of the proposed law point out that many of the provisions used to determine the appropriate amount of parenting time for each parent have been in place for years. The court has considered the preferences of mature children, the schedules of the children, where each parent lives geographically, the parents schedules and preferences, the physical and emotional health of each of the parents, and any history of domestic violence, child neglect, or substance abuse.

Some believe since the central goal of parenting plans would be changed, it would force many families back into court, and upset the lives of children and parents who have managed to develop a routine centered on their current circumstances. It has the potential of challenging some families to fix something that isn't necessarily broken. It will also add an additional case load to the already congested family court system, prolonging custody battles and divorce proceedings. This, they argue, could create an unnecessary disruption in a child's life.

Will starting at a 50/50 division of time help custody proceedings? Will it help set a standard that fathers are due equal time even if they didn't regularly take care of the daily responsibilities, like feeding the kids in the morning or picking them up from school, before the divorce? Maybe, but even if it becomes law, you should still choose an attorney who has the experience to help you make decisions that protect your parental rights.

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