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How Do Courts Determine Parental Responsibility?


When a married couple has children and decides to divorce, they must establish a custody order with the courts before that dissolution can be finalized. This requires the parents, or a judge, to come up with a plan in which the two parties share not only physical time with their child, but also decision making responsibility. The type of arrangement that works best for a family will depend on a number of factors, including the number of children in question, the parents’ relationship, and how far away the two parties live from each other. Custody plans aren’t always easy to change and can have far-reaching consequences for a child’s relationship with his or her parents, so couples who are grappling with these issues should strongly consider retaining a Fort Lauderdale shared parental responsibility lawyer who can help them navigate the legal process.

Defining Parental Responsibility

In Florida, the courts use specific terms when discussing physical custody, which is referred to as parenting time, and legal custody, or responsibility for decision making, which is known as parental responsibility. Over the years, courts have become more and more willing to order both shared parenting time and parental responsibility, as doing so is usually deemed to be in a child’s best interests. When it comes to parental responsibility, this means that couples will often be required to share in important decision-making, about the child’s:

  • Medical and healthcare needs;
  • Education;
  • Religious upbringing; and
  • Participation in extracurricular activities.

How responsibility for making these decisions is divided will be outlined in a family’s custody agreement, or parenting plan.

How is Parental Responsibility Shared?

In most cases, parents are required to share some responsibility for making decisions about their child. This means that they will have to communicate or work together to some degree when making child-rearing decisions. In fact, it is not uncommon for parents to share parental responsibility, even when one parent has primary custody. A parenting plan will also include  details about what steps the couple should take if they are unable to reach an agreement on one of these important issues. Often, this involves one parent being given ultimate decision making authority, although still required to engage with the other parent in making the decision. Alternatively, a parent could be granted sole parental responsibility, but this usually only occurs when one parent is missing or has a history of child abuse.

Determining Parental Responsibility

In Florida, parents are encouraged to come up with their own parenting plans in an out-of-court setting. If, however, this isn’t possible, the court will step in and make a decision on parenting time and parental responsibility. When making this determination, courts assess a number of factors, including the parents’ expressed wishes, how parenting time is divided between the parents, the parents’ willingness to work together, the child’s specific routine or healthcare needs, and where the parents live.

Set Up a Free Case Review Today

If you are struggling with a custody issue, reach out to experienced Fort Lauderdale shared parental responsibility lawyer Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A. to schedule a consultation. You can reach a member of our legal team by calling 954-945-7591 or by sending us an online message.



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