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Florida Legal Blog

Preparing to co-parent after divorce

For divorced parents in Florida, adjusting to co-parenting can be a complicated transition. Even when parents try their best to protect the kids from emotional fallout, divorce can be difficult for everyone in the family. Children may feel like they need to take a side between their parents, and it can be disorienting to shift lifestyles along with homes on a frequent basis. In many cases, parents can also struggle emotionally and feel a sense of competition or frustration with the other parent.

These issues can also combine with the logistical challenges of co-parenting after divorce and living in two different households. Despite the difficulties, however, many exes successfully forge successful co-parenting relationships that benefit the children. There are a number of different types of child custody and visitation schedules that divorced parents can agree upon. In some cases, parents have joint custody and share their time with the children on a more or less equal basis. In other cases, one parent is the primary custodial parent and the other has regular visitation.

Co-parenting basics that may minimize child custody issues

A divorce between Florida parents with young children is often accompanied by the need to develop a healthy and productive co-parenting arrangement. Regardless of the reasons why the marriage is ending, most parent are advised to keep the best interests of their children in mind. Unless there is an obvious safety risk, it's often better for the child if parents avoid alienating each other, even if the process was contentious.

The back-and-forth process dictated by a child custody agreement may be less stressful if both parents keep household rules fairly consistent in both homes. Keeping a marked calendar in each home may further minimize confusion or eliminate potential sources of conflict, especially with holidays, vacations, and special events. When changes with medical and school information or scheduled pick-up and drop-off times need to be made, the odds of turning these instances into full-blown allegations of custody agreement violations could be reduced for some parents by limiting communication to emails and texts.

How parents can work together after a divorce

When parents in Florida get a divorce, they will usually still need to maintain some sort of relationship as coparents. Courts take the position that unless there are serious issues such as neglect or abuse, children should spend time with both parents. However, a smooth co-parenting relationship can require some effort.

Even if the divorce has been an acrimonious one, ex-spouses can appreciate one another as parents. It is important to set aside negative feelings for the sake of the children. Parents who cannot work through anger or other emotions may want to see a therapist. Having a set schedule for visitation and neutral places to pick up and drop off the children may also help. Finally, parents who need assistance with conflict resolution may want to consult a parent coordinator. This is a professional, sometimes a social worker or a psychologist, who can facilitate communication.

Why establishing paternity is beneficial for children and parents

There are several reasons why unmarried fathers in Florida might want to establish paternity of their children. Mothers who have children might also benefit by having the paternity of their children established.

When unmarried people have children together, the paternity of the children is not automatically established. Instead, men must establish their paternity of their children either by acknowledging them or through a court process and genetic testing. Single mothers must establish paternity in order to get a court order for child support from their children's fathers. In addition to getting child support, establishing paternity also allows children to know their fathers and to build relationships with them, which is beneficial for their development. They might also be able to learn about their fathers' medical information so that they can know about any medical conditions they are at risk of developing.

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.

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