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Orlando Custody & Visitation Law Blog

How is paternity established?

Florida residents who want to exercise their parental rights may first need to legally establish the fact that they are actually eligible to do so. In the case of children who were born out of wedlock, the process of establishing paternity is explicitly codified, but variances in specific family situations may have an impact on the way the matter is ultimately handled. In most situations, men who acknowledge paternity still have 60 days to rescind such acknowledgement, meaning that it's necessary to pay attention to the timing of events when trying to get documentation in order or resolve disputes.

According to Florida law, court officials can accept multiple forms of verification acknowledging paternity. For instance, affidavits and stipulations of paternity acknowledgement can be executed by couples who want to establish the identity of their child's father and submitted to court officials as long as an adjudicatory hearing was conducted. When such hearings haven't occurred, notarized voluntary acknowledgements may be accepted.

What happens if a spouse refuses to pay child support?

When a Florida court issues a child support order, it serves as a legally binding and enforceable order in the event that the parent who has been ordered to pay fails to make their payments. The Florida Department of Revenue has several methods through which these orders can be enforced in the event of a default.

After a child support payment becomes delinquent, the DOR will first mail a late payment notice to the parent. If the parent still does not submit payment and have regular employment, a garnishment order can be issued to his or her employer ordering it to withhold the support amount and submit it directly to the state for the benefit of the custodial parent. Additionally, Florida may suspend driver's licenses and professional licenses for nonpayment of child support. In order to get these licenses back, the delinquent parent will have to arrange to pay the back-owed child support amount.

Can a violent or abusive parent receive visitation rights?

Many Florida parents file for a divorce because of an abusive spouse. They may be concerned about how the court will handle questions of child custody and whether the abusive parent will receive custody or visitation rights.

In cases where parents cannot agree on child custody arrangements, family court judges often develop parenting plans after hearing testimony and examining evidence presented by each parent. Parents who have been convicted of first-degree misdemeanor or felony domestic abuse or who are in prison are often not granted these rights because judges may believe that the children's welfare would be compromised if that parent received custodial or visitation rights.

How can a parent get sole custody of a child?

The public policy of the state of Florida is that children should have continuing, frequent contact with both of their parents following a separation or divorce. Parents are encouraged to share in the joys and responsibilities of raising their children. A family court will order shared custody unless it makes a determination that shared custody would have a detrimental effect on the child.

There is a rebuttable presumption that shared custody would be detrimental if a parent has been convicted of a first degree misdemeanor or more serious crime involving domestic violence. Even if there has been no conviction, a court will consider evidence of a parent's domestic violence in making its custody determination.

Florida visitation rights for grandparents

When a couple divorces or annuls their marriage and one of the parents receives physical custody of any minor children, the parents or grandparents of the other parent may be able to obtain visitation rights from the state. Similarly, grandparents may be able to obtain these rights after a paternity hearing establishes that they are the child's grandparents.

If grandparents desire visitation rights with a child, they must first file a petition for these rights with the court. The court will examine the situation to determine if visitation is in the best interests of the child. This includes the grandparents' willingness to foster positive relationships between the child and parents. The court will also examine the mental and physical health of the child and grandparents as well as any previous relationship the child had with the grandparents.

Visitation plans and guidelines

A divorce is often traumatic for everyone involved, and this is especially true for children. As part of a divorce order, the custody rights and visitation for children is established. In most circumstances, one parent has primary physical custody and the other parent has visitation while both parents share legal custody. This means that both parents have a say in major decisions regarding the child, such as where they attend school and what medical care they will receive. Florida provides guidelines for parents and the court to set up custody and visitation agreements.

The primary goal of a visitation schedule is to minimize the loss to the child while maximizing the contact and benefits of a relationship with both parents. It is accepted that in most cases, a child benefits from having contact with both parents. It is also important for parents to understand that all visitation schedules are created with the best interests of the child in mind.

Child support is court ordered, and payments are mandatory

In Florida, child support payments are mandatory and enforceable. When a parent fails to make payments on time and in the amount ordered by the court, they may be subject to a variety of penalties and even jail time.

If a custodial parent who receives child support finds that payments are not being made, they may contact the child support office in their area. The office will refer the case to the Department of Revenue to determine why payments are not paid as directed. If circumstances are different for the paying parent, options are in place to address this problem. If the parent just decided to stop paying, this is considered a serious dereliction of their duty and is severely dealt with by the courts.

Factors weighed in deciding custody issues in Florida

In Florida, the courts have wide discretion in determining issues of child custody. Custody and visitation decisions turn on the best interests of the child, and the court will weigh a number of factors in coming to its determination, typically examining the child's home life, the parents' histories and the likelihood of cooperation by the parents. Other considerations include the child's home history, including school performance and the permanence of the home, with continuity being among the important factors as well.

The ability of the respective parents to provide for the child and the existing ties between parent and child will also bear on the analysis. Any history of domestic violence will also be important, as will the moral, mental and physical status of the parents and the parents' previous involvement in the child's life, including extracurricular activities and relationships with the child's teachers and friends.

Understanding how courts makes child support determinations

Florida parents may with to know how state law dictates that child support payments are determined. Using a set of guidelines to determine a parent's income, the monthly payment is derived by the person evaluating the case, called the "trier of fact" in the statute dealing with child support; this is another term for a judge.

When calculating child support amounts, the judge determines the non-custodial parent's gross income by looking at the money coming in from various sources, including salary, rental income and disability benefits. If the parent is not receiving income for voluntary reasons, the court may impute income on him or her equivalent to his or her earning potential. The parent's income and the number of children to be supported are then compared with a statutory chart to derive the appropriate amount of child support.

Visitation rights for adoptive mother from same-sex relationship

A Florida adoptive mother has been granted access to her son after the Florida Supreme Court ruled in her favor. The woman adopted the boy after her female partner gave birth to him more than six years ago, but after the couple split, the birth mother cut off contact.

In 2012, a judge had approved the adoption request, but later that year the birth mother had asked a different judge to reverse the adoption. She was successful, but a higher court returned rights to the adoptive mother prior to the Florida Supreme Court ruling. Because the adoptive mother has not seen the boy for a year and a half, a therapist has been appointed for both mothers and for the boy to assist in the reunion.

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