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How do Florida courts make child custody decisions?

Custody battles are difficult for adults and children alike. There's much at stake: your relationship with your children, their day-to-day lives and their long-term opportunities. How does a judge - who doesn't truly know your children as you do - make such big decisions about their future?

Florida law requires courts to make custody decisions based on the best interests of the child. This standard involves weighing numerous considerations, including:

1. Family history

The court will study the child's relationship with both parents, taking a close look at how the family functioned in the past. For example, to what extent was each parent involved in the children's lives? Which parent took the primary role in providing for their day-to-day needs?

Also relevant are any allegations of verbal, physical or emotional abuse as well as any history of substance abuse or criminal behavior.

2. Ability to co-parent

Shared custody arrangements require cooperation between parents who often still have bitter feelings toward one another. To make such an arrangement work, they must be able to put their children's needs first.

The court will examine each parent's pattern of behavior to determine whether co-parenting is possible. For example, has one parent been alienating the children from the other? Have both shown they can respect the existing parenting plan and time-sharing arrangements? To what extent can they rise above their personal disputes and work together for the sake of the children?

3. Prospective living situations

The court will also examine each parent's living situation. Do their home environments promote the children's safety, enrichment and well-being? Would the children receive the right structure, support, discipline and encouragement in each household? How would a change impact the children's ties to nearby relatives, schools, community activities and the like? Could disrupting the children's current living situation cause significant harm? On the other hand, would the long-term benefit of a change outweigh the short-term drawbacks?

An individualized determination

As you can see, determining what's in the best interests of the child is not a quick or easy decision. There is no formula or one-size-fits-all solution. Just as each family is different, so, too, each custody arrangement will depend on the unique facts and circumstances of the situation at hand.

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