Child Custody Lawyers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Many parents find themselves in a situation where they need to share custody with the other biological parent. These custody hearings are common after a divorce, paternity test, or parenting conflicts between the couple. Regardless of the reasons for the hearing, the process is the same and parents should do their best to be adequately prepared. An unprepared parent risks losing valuable time with their child, and it can be difficult to change the custody plan at a later time.
Fort Lauderdale child custody attorneys can assist anyone who is about to go through this process and have a custody hearing. The Law Office of Verna Popo, P.A. is available to discuss any child custody situation more thoroughly with local clients. There are a few aspects of custody hearings that need to be understood thoroughly to achieve the best result.
The best interests of the child
The most important guiding factor in child custody hearings in Florida and many other states is the best interests of the child. This means that the judge has an obligation to come up with a final custody plan that facilitates the child’s best interests. Generally speaking, the best interests’ standard tries to put the child in a situation where they will have stability, security, adequate resources, and their life and education will not be disrupted. The judge has to weigh the parents’ living situations, along with both positive and negative factors related to each parent to try to make a determination. Because negative factors are considered, this means that issues with financial instability, criminal convictions, substance abuse, or any kind of domestic violence or child abuse may cause the judge to limit or eliminate the custody rights of any parent with these serious problems. In some custody hearings, it is possible that each side will attempt to make the other look bad in the eyes of the judge to maximize their own custody rights.
The process of the custody hearing
Once the court date for the custody hearing arrives, there are a number of different things that will happen. There is no initial presumption that a father, mother, or either parent should receive more custody time or preferential treatment under Florida law. It is best for each parent to be adequately prepared with their child custody attorney in Fort Lauderdale, as custody hearings can move quickly once a few initial matters are sorted out. It is possible that a child can be called to testify and give their own opinions regarding custody if they are old enough, each parent may give testimony as well, and there is a possibility that other witnesses who are familiar with the child or the family will speak. Opinions from any witness about the suitability of each parent to raise a child can be crucial at this time. After the judge has all of this information, they can decide on a parent with primary custody, joint custody, and issue the final parenting plan.
Shared parenting plans
By the end of the hearing, there will be a shared parenting plan that both parents must follow. Under Florida law, there are specific pieces of information that must be in this plan. The plan can be reviewed with the parent by a Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney for a more detailed explanation.
There needs to be information about how each parent can meet the practical demands of the plan such as exchanging custody, transportation, and getting the child to school and other important places. The plan also needs to be divided into time intervals so there is information about where each parent is with the child at any given time. Because attending school and receiving healthcare are important, the plan also needs to outline the school the child will be enrolled into, along with information for a doctor or medical issues. If the child has activities such as sports aside from their schooling, the plan should say who is responsible for the administration of such activities. Because each parent is allowed to speak with the child under a normal custody arrangement, plans for communication by phone or other means also need to be included.
Modifying a child custody order
Once an order for child custody is in place, this is an obligation that parents need to take seriously. It is possible that a parent can be held in contempt of court for violating the order. If there is a legitimate reason why a parent wants to have the order modified or changed, they need to go through the courts to do so. Florida law allows the custody plan to be modified in a few specific situations.
At certain times, the parents may both have changes in their schedules or employment, so they will jointly agree to make changes to their custody arrangement. There can be a meeting to create the new custody arrangement and present it to the judge assigned to the case for approval.
Another reason to have the plan formally modified is when one or both parents have a substantial change in circumstances. While there is no concrete definition for such a change, things like a job loss, large changes in income, serious health problems, or moving to a new county or state would likely qualify as a substantial change in circumstances.
The final reason why the order may be modified is related to criminal activity such as domestic violence or child abuse. It is likely that the judge will severely limit or terminate the custody rights of any parent who has been charged with these kinds of offenses, especially if the child was harmed during the incident. There may be an additional process to get a protective order against the parent responsible.
Scheduling a meeting with a child custody lawyer
As this summary shows, there are many detailed aspects of the child custody process, and it is important for a parent going through custody issues to have legal advice that is relevant to their situation. The Law Office of Verna Popo, P.A. can provide specific guidance from a Fort Lauderdale child custody lawyer that covers all of these areas.