A Guide To The Challenges Of Child-Centered Family Law Matters
Children often take center stage in family law matters. However, every child custody and child support case is unique to the individuals involved, and finding a resolution is rarely simple. It is challenging but necessary to make arrangements that best support the children’s physical, emotional and developmental needs, while still respecting the parents’ legal rights and desire to continue raising and loving their kids.
Despite the challenges and emotions involved, there are always solutions to family law conflicts involving children. At Quinn & Lynch, P.A., our attorneys have found that when our clients understand the process of arriving at child custody and support arrangements, they are better able to express their preferences and their children’s needs.
Below are some resources for you to educate yourself on what issues might affect your parenting plan or your child support order:
- What is child support based on in Florida?
- Failure to pay child support
- Sole child custody vs. joint custody
- Reasons to modify a parenting plan
State law contains a specific formula used when determining what a noncustodial parent owes the custodial parent in child support payments. The variables in the formula include:
- Each parent’s net monthly income
- The number of children the parents have together
- The custodial parent’s monthly child care expenses, if any
- The monthly cost of health insurance paid by each parent, including dental and vision insurance
It is possible in limited circumstances for the family court judge to deviate upward or downward from the standard calculation.
Once the court issues a child support order, it is the noncustodial parent’s legal duty to pay the full amount on time. If the parent falls behind on child support, the custodial parent can file a complaint with their local Department of Revenue’s child support office. The department may next file a Motion of Contempt against the noncustodial parent. A hearing on the matter would then take place before a hearing officer, who will advise the judge whether or not to hold the noncustodial parent in contempt of court.
If the parent is found in contempt, punishments can include liens on their property and a jail sentence.
A parent who is unable to pay the level of child support required of them should consult their attorney about seeking a modification to the order. Courts may reduce the level of payment in several situations, such as when the parent has lost their job or experienced a reduction in income.
Most experts agree that children do best when they spend time with both of their parents regularly, absent issues that make doing so unsafe, such as domestic violence or drug addiction. In Florida, courts have the option of granting joint child custody to both parents or sole custody to one parent, reserving visitation time for the other.
Which arrangement will be approved by the court depends on the parties’ particular circumstances, such as how far apart the parents live, if one of the parents is remaining in the family home, and where the child goes to school. Ultimately, family court judges are directed not to approve a custody plan that is not in the child’s best interests.
In a sole custody arrangement, one parent is granted sole physical custody of the child. Generally, the other parent is granted visitation rights, for example every other weekend. A joint custody arrangement involves the child living part-time with each parent. For example, the child could spend two weeks with one parent and two weeks with the other.
Besides physical custody, in almost every case, parents share legal child custody. This refers to a parent’s legal right to make key decisions about the child’s upbringing. Examples of matters that having legal child custody gives you power over include where the child will go to school, who their pediatrician will be, and in what religious faith the child will be raised, if any.
The two most common reasons a parent may wish to modify an existing parenting plan are 1) the plan was poorly conceived, or 2) changing circumstances have made some or all of the plan impractical, unnecessary or unfair to one or all of the parties.
Negotiating a parenting plan containing child custody and support arrangements is a delicate and challenging process. Mistakes in the plan or misunderstandings between the parents about the plan’s contents can lead to disagreements later on that eventually lead to litigation. The best way to avoid this outcome is to retain an experienced family law attorney to explain the process to you and make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities.
As time goes on, parents’ careers and private lives change. They may get remarried, move out of state, lose their job or receive a sizeable raise. Meanwhile, their children are growing up and developing new interests, or possibly dealing with serious medical challenges.
These and other life changes can require modifications to the child support or custody arrangements. For example, if the custodial parent’s household income goes up significantly due to marriage or career advancement, that could affect the level of child support the noncustodial parent would have to pay under Florida law.
Parents do not always agree to modify an existing plan, or they may disagree over the extent of the changes needed. Your lawyer will help you protect your interests, as well as those of your children.
Knowledge Is Power For Parents
Knowing your legal rights and obligations as a Florida parent will help you make the right decisions regarding child custody, visitation rights and child support. To learn more about the interaction of parents, children and state law, contact us at our Tampa office by calling [813-773-0687.