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Is FULL CUSTODY a Myth in Florida?

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Everything you WISH you knew about Parental Responsibility in Florida, BEFORE you went to Court.


By Jarbath Pena Law Group


Parent with custody teaching child, Jarbath Peña Law Group, family law, Miami, FL.

Two concepts that are often confused or misunderstood by divorcing or unmarried parents are child time-sharing and parental responsibility. Basically, when parents are separating, decisions regarding the child or children must be made either by the court or through an agreement between the parents. The parties must decide physical custody, which, in Florida, is referred to as time-sharing. This is typically managed by creating a schedule that dictates when each parent has physical custody and time with their child.

Calendar, counting the days of full custody, Jarbath Peña Law Group, family law firm, Miami, FL.

Most people are familiar with the idea of sharing custody of their child. But many don’t realize that the court must also consider who will make decisions regarding the child’s life. This decision-making authority is a separate concept called parental responsibility—and the court can award this to both parents or just one parent, depending on the circumstances. Today, the lawyers of the Jarbath Peña Law Firm will discuss the concept of parental responsibility and how courts award this decision-making power in Florida.


What Is Parental Responsibility?

Child custody parent with child and doctor, Jarbath Peña Law Group, family law firm, Miami, FL.

As stated, parental responsibility as it relates to divorcing or unmarried parents means the ability to make decisions regarding the child’s life. It can include major decisions, like where the child will attend school, who their doctor will be, and what religion they will be raised in—or less significant decisions, like which extracurricular activities they participate in.


Usually, married couples make these decisions together, but that doesn’t always go smoothly because well-meaning people can disagree strongly about such issues. Communication and compromise are both essential for couples to work through any such disagreements. But when a couple has never been married or is divorcing, this decision-making process can get far more challenging. When the couple is not together, there can be less motivation to cooperate, and things can sometimes get messy.


So when a court is determining who gets the decision-making authority over a child’s life, they will consider many factors.


Courts Prefer Joint Parental Responsibility


Courts have a strong preference for awarding joint parental responsibility. This means that both parents must work together to talk out issues and compromise to find mutually agreeable solutions to child-related decisions. Florida Statute 61.046 defines shared parental responsibility. The law defines it as “a court-ordered relationship where both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child and in which both parents confer with each other so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly.”


Child of a parent with custody doing research, Jarbath Peña Law Group, family law firm, Miami, FL.

For instance, suppose Mary and John got divorced a few years ago, and they have a little girl named Sue. Now that Sue has reached school age, a conflict arises. Mary strongly believes that Sue should go to a private school, but John might feel just as strongly that Sue should go to a public school.


If joint parental custody was granted in the divorce, Mary and John would have to get together and try to work out their differences so they can make a good decision for Sue. They need to put their own agendas aside and work to determine what is best for their daughter. If they cannot agree, one or both parents might petition the court to make the decision for them.


Joint Parental Responsibility with Ultimate Decision-Making Authority


If it looks like the parents might have a hard time coming to mutually agreeable decisions regarding the child, the court has another option. The judge could grant one parent the ultimate decision-making authority in the event that the parents cannot agree on certain issues. So, in our example above, if Mary and John cannot come to an agreement but the judge gave Mary ultimate decision-making authority, then Mary would have the final say in which school Sue attends.



Sole Parental Responsibility


Florida courts consider the parent-child bond to be a sacred one that must be honored. So, our court system will do all it can to include both parents in a child’s life. However, the child’s best interests are always of paramount importance—and if there is evidence that one parent’s involvement would harm the child, the court can rule differently.


Therefore, under extraordinary circumstances, the court can grant sole parental responsibility to just one parent. A judge can grant sole decision-making authority to one parent for one issue, a few issues, or across the board for all child-related decisions. However, the parent requesting this right must show the court that allowing the other parent to participate equally in decision-making would be detrimental to the child. This is a high burden to meet. But if there is evidence of domestic violence or other harmful decisions on the part of one parent, sole decision-making responsibility may be granted to the other parent.


How Do You Get Sole Parental Responsibility?

As stated, sole parental responsibility is rarely granted. But when it is necessary to protect the child’s best interests, the court can grant such authority to one parent over the other. Judges do not take this decision lightly, however, and there are several factors that they will consider before granting such authority. Let’s look at some of these factors you must show when requesting sole parental responsibility.


History of domestic violence. The judge will consider a demonstrable history of domestic violence and weigh that against the offending parent. A conviction is not necessary, but you must provide evidence of such violence.

Custody for a child at home studying, Jarbath Peña Law Group, family law lawyers, Miami, FL.

Child abuse. If you can show that the other parent has a history of abusing the child in any way, including sexually, the judge will weigh this against them.


Child neglect or abandonment. A history of your co-parent neglecting or abandoning the child will weigh against that parent’s rights.


Mental or physical health issues. A judge will consider whether any health issues negatively impact a parent’s ability to make good decisions for the child.

Drug usage and child custody, Jarbath Peña Law Group, family law attorneys, Miami, FL.

Substance Abuse. If a parent abuses drugs or alcohol, the court might decide it is in the child’s best interest to strip them of decision-making authority.


If you provide evidence of any of the above issues, the judge can grant you sole authority to make decisions for your child. This evidence may or may not impact the offending parent’s ability to spend time with the child. The judge will weigh all the evidence and make whatever decision they believe is best for the child.


Call Us Today

Jarbath Peña Law Group, family law, custody, and immigration attorneys, Miami, FL.

If you have questions or concerns about custody or parental responsibility, the attorneys at The Jarbath Peña Law Group are here to help. We know that your children are the most important thing in your life, and we want to help you protect your family. We have the experience you need and the passion you desire in a legal advocate.



Call today at 305-615-1005 or contact us through our online contact form today!



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