Like most states, Florida bases child custody and support off of the best interests of the child. They also have specific guidelines for child support. In most cases, Florida courts grant shared custody – referred to as “shared parental responsibility” but they may lean more to one parent or the other, especially if the child is old enough to express a preference. Also, each party in the divorce is required to file a Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act Affidavit which covers the number of children, where the child is now, whether there has been a previous custody agreement, and whether anyone else may have physical custody or claim visitation rights. (This, by the way, is the law that is designed to prevent somebody from fleeing to another state with the kids).
Child support in Florida is enforced by the Child Support Enforcement Program. The program is generally used by those on public assistance, but will help any parent on request by collecting and distributing child support. In other words, if your ex is not paying his or her share, then the program may be able to help you – including by garnishing wages or claiming property to pay debts. The program can also help in circumstances where the other parent is unable to pay the money. Any changes to child support have to go through the courts. Failure to pay child support does not mean you can deny your ex visitation (or vice versa). They are considered separate issues.
Custody and visitation are called “parenting plans” in Florida and are determined either by the parents or, if they can’t agree, by the court. If your ex is not abiding by the plan, then you can actually file a motion for civil contempt and enforcement. (Note that separated couples who are not yet divorced can file a parenting plan as well). However, this can be particularly combative, so you may want to file a motion to enforce parenting plan instead. The parenting plan can only be modified by court order, and a petition can be filed to change the plan if, for example, one parent moves, or if you discover that now your kid is in a new school the existing plan is not working as well, or even if your child wants part of it changed.
If your ex is interfering with your visitation rights, you can also file a motion. This does include not allowing your child to talk to you on the phone. Extreme interference can result in parental alienation (that is, one parent manipulating the child into disliking the other). Kidnapping is the most serious form of violation and can result in criminal charges. If your ex disappears with the child(ren) then this is considered kidnapping. In some cases, parents may pick the kid up at school or from an activity and then go to a secret location. There are two defenses for kidnapping – that they genuinely believed the child was in danger or that domestic violence was involved (if you suspect your child is witnessing or a victim of domestic violence then you should consider other options before simply grabbing the child).
Judges may choose to alter the parenting plan if interference is happening. They might even change primary custody of the child or children. In other words, if your ex never lets you see your kids, then the judge may choose to grant you primary custody. They may also grant extra visitation time, temporarily or permanently. Of course, they could also work with both of you to change the schedule to something which works better.
Remember that the primary concern of family courts is the wellbeing of the children, over and above the wishes of the parents. If you and your ex are in conflict over child support or custody, then you may need a family lawyer to help you make your case to the court and convince the judge that your wishes are in line with what’s best for your child. If you need a family lawyer to help you enforce a child support agreement or fix custody problems, contact the Law Offices of Ronald M. Zakarin.