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Florida Legal Blog

How substance abuse can impact child custody

Single parents in Florida may become very concerned if they learn that their co-parent is abusing alcohol or drugs. In some cases, substance use disorders can lead to actions that are harmful or dangerous to children. If a drug problem becomes a big enough concern, the family court may get involved with a custody situation.

Substance abuse concerns are often raised during an initial child custody hearing. In many cases, however, the matter can come before the family court due to a report from a mandated state agency or from the other parent. There is a strong presumption in family court that children benefit from a close, loving relationship with both of their parents. To that end, alcohol or drug use in and of itself is not usually a reason to bar a parent from joint custody or visitation time with their child. However, if substance abuse limits the ability of the parent to care for the child or puts the child at risk, visitation restrictions could be put in place.

What to know about terminating parental rights

Parents in Florida and throughout the country may be asked to terminate their parental rights. This can be done in situations when a parent doesn't seek out a relationship with a child or is perceived to be a danger to a son or daughter. If a parent does choose to terminate his or her rights to a child, it generally means the end of child support payments from that person.

In some cases, the court will listen to the child's opinion during a hearing to decide if rights will be terminated. However, even if the child wants a parent in his or her life, there is no guarantee that this will happen. It would still need to be deemed in that child's best interest to have the parent involved. However, as a general rule, courts don't terminate the rights of a biological parent unless there is a clear reason to do so.

Film looks at race, poverty and child support

Child custody and support can be challenging issues for divorced or separated Florida parents, especially where issues with the system intersect with poverty and racism. The documentary "Where's Daddy?" seeks to explore the child support system and how it affects black families, particularly fathers. While a great deal of attention is often paid to the large amount of child support debt that exists across the country, the relationship to poverty can be striking.

In fact, parents who have no income and those who make less than $10,000 annually are the source of 70 percent of all outstanding child support debt. In these cases, rather than simply reflecting fathers who do not care for their children, the outstanding debt and lack of child custody may be more reflective of poverty than any other concern. In addition, child support debt and its relation to criminalization can add further complications to any particular situation, especially for black men. In one case, a man who owed $18,000 in child support ran away from police after being pulled over in a traffic stop. He was shot in the back by police, and his brother said fear of jail time and job loss had pushed him to run away.

Voluntary and involuntary processes of establishing paternity

Children in Florida potentially have much to gain when their fathers are identified within official records. In addition to gaining the opportunity to know his or her father, a child could become eligible to receive child support from him. If his or her father dies, the child could also qualify for Social Security death benefits or perhaps an inheritance. For these reasons, a family might wish to establish paternity regardless of the father's willingness to participate.

Typically, fathers voluntarily acknowledge their paternity. A man who is present at the birth of his child can officially become the father by signing either a Declaration of Paternity or an Acknowledgment of Paternity. This document makes it possible to put the man's name on the birth certificate. When a father is not present at a birth, he may declare his paternity up until the child reaches age 18. He will accomplish this by preparing an affidavit of paternity.

Talking to your children during a divorce

You’ve spent years training your children on how to speak, what to eat, and how to behave. With your help, they’ve developed their own opinions on everything from broccoli (definitely out) to colorful t-shirts (definitely in).

It would seem that, during a divorce, they would need your advice now more than ever. While your child will look to you for your thoughts on everything, it is important to watch how you influence their opinion.

Why mediation works in child custody cases

Florida parents who are going through the divorce process may benefit from going through mediation to resolve child custody issues. One of the primary benefits is that the parents work together to create a unified plan to help raise their children. The focus is placed on the best interest of the child as opposed to what the parents want for themselves.

In fact, the mediator will work to ensure that both parties are allowed to present their views in a fair manner. This will reduce the chances that a divorced couple relives the past instead of focusing on the future. If the spouses are successful in creating a parenting plan, the child will be able to develop lasting relationships with both of them moving forward. Furthermore, the parents may be able to have better relationships with each other because they are spending less time blaming each other for past problems.

Custody remains a tool for abusers to victimize others

Parents in Florida and throughout the country may believe that an abusive spouse or partner won't have rights to the victim's child. However, courts may disregard previous abuse in child custody cases. In some cases, a judge may be swayed by the fact that a parent is making an effort to be in a son or daughter's life. For some who have prior instances of abuse, obtaining custody of a child is an attempt to further control the victim.

When an abuser attempts to gain custody of a child, it can be referred to as coercive control. It tends to involve tactics such as talking poorly about a victim in front of the children or to the children directly. As a general rule, people who have abused their spouses tend to have a parenting style that is not conductive to raising a child.

Visitation and types of custody

When a parent in Florida gets a divorce, they might have to share custody or agree to certain visitation rights. Although custody and visitation are often talked about together, they are not the same thing.

While visitation refers to a parent's right to time with a child, it may not include the right to have the child live with that parent. A common schedule for visitation is the child spending every alternate weekend and one weeknight with the noncustodial parent.

The major concerns in child custody cases

For parents in Florida dealing with a divorce or the end of a relationship, the most complex and difficult questions to resolve often relate to caring for their children. Child custody decisions can be contentious and painful as both parents often seek the maximum amount of time with their children. When parents can come to an agreement among themselves, they can often develop a mutual understanding about how to handle custody issues. In many cases, however, the court must make a determination as to how custody will be handled.

There are several factors that frequently arise during child custody disputes, including financial security, general stability in life, living circumstances, sibling relationships and the bond between the children and the parents. Courts dealing with such issues have a mandate to prioritize the best interests of the children, including their health, education and general welfare.

When is a guardian ad litem necessary?

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an impartial court appointed person that acts as a representative in the best interests of a minor child. In situations when a GAL has been appointed, the court has identified a need for a person to protect the interests of the child, who is unable to protect themselves.

Appointment of a GAL

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