Florida does not use the word “custody” in the laws governing divorce. Instead, Florida courts must assign “parental responsibility” and “time sharing.”

“Time sharing” refers to the specific days and times each parent spends with the child and generally includes a count of the number of overnights the child spends with each parent. The number of overnights is used in calculating child support, and 20% of overnights (73 overnights) is considered to be substantial time sharing for purposes of the child support calculation, and substantial time sharing generally results in less child support being paid by the parent that has fewer overnights.

There is a presumption that parents will exercise shared parental responsibility by consulting with each other before jointly deciding what is best for the child. This can be challenging even when parents are married and getting along well. Divorce makes it almost impossible, but the courts expect parent to work it out for the benefit of the children.

Other alternatives include “shared parental responsibility with ultimate decision-making authority” and “sole parental responsibility.”

“Shared parental responsibility with ultimate decision-making authority” is appropriate when parents have different core values, such as having different religions or different philosophies about medical treatment or education, and are therefore unable to reach agreement about some decisions affecting the child. Either parent may have ultimate decision-making authority for a particular area of responsibility, but both must still confer and attempt to reach joint agreement for all major decisions. If unable to agree, no return to court is needed, because the ultimate decision-maker has the final word.

“Sole parental responsibility” means that the one parent makes all the decisions and bears full responsibility for those decisions. It does not necessarily mean that there will be no time sharing between the other parent and the child. But, the other parent has no input and no responsibility in decision making for the child. Courts are reluctant to award sole parental responsibility because of the adverse consequences to the child. A showing that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child is required before the court will order sole parental responsibility.