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Florida's proposed child custody reforms

If you live in Florida and have children, but are unsure of whether your marriage is going to last, it's a good time to pay attention to what is going on with child custody law. The Florida legislature is looking to pass a 50/50 custody bill that would make 50/50 shared custody the presumption or default whenever there is a divorce or shared custody battle.

Those who support the bill do so because they believe that both of a child's parents carry an equal value in his or her life, and therefore the child should have the right to spend equal time with each parent. They also believe that each parent should have equal financial and caretaking responsibilities for the child. Most importantly, they want this to be clearly stated in custody statutes.

As the law stands, "the best interest of the child" is used but can be somewhat subjective. In many cases, argue supporters, it leaves the child in the company of one parent - generally the mother -- the majority of the time, while the father's contribution becomes mostly financial and he is unable to impact his child's life in as meaningful a way as he would like.

Matters of alimony and child support would also be more clear-cut under the new law. As it stands, the amount of alimony or child support non-custodial parents pay can vary, making it difficult to budget in the expense and prepare for life after a divorce.

Supporters of the bill also say that women would benefit from the law as well. Another by-product of the law would limit the amount of alimony and child support paid from one parent to another, since parenting time is figured into the calculations. Many believe that receiving long term child support and/or alimony is ultimately crippling for women, and it prevents them from pursuing their career aspirations because an easier source of money is coming in.

Reasons behind the governor's veto

When the bill hit the desk of Florida Governor Rick Scott in April 2016, he returned it with a veto letter. He stated that current law already called for the best interest of the child to be a priority in custody cases, and that current law is subjective because it needs to be. It doesn't negate either parents value to their child's life, but recognizes that when it comes to the lives and needs of children, the situations are not always black and white.

A 50/50 time share is not always practical and could get in the way of a child's social and academic obligations. If one parent makes far more money than the other, it can lead to a highly unbalanced standard of living for the child. It can bring about situations where both parents work more hours, which could make it even more difficult for both parents to spend time with their children and provide them with the support and nurturing they need, regardless of how much time they are allocated. Instead, the time is spent with babysitters, siblings, friends, or on their own.

Aside from considering the child's schedule, critics also are concerned that the bill does not properly address situations where domestic violence is an issue in the home. In these situations, the spouse may not be financially stable enough to handle caring for children on his or her own and may stay in a living situation where the spouse and/or the children are abused because of a belief that it is the only chance to protect the family. Opponents argue that an abusive spouse may be able to afford better legal representative, and the children could wind up unprotected 50 percent of the time.

As long as parents find themselves in situations where they must raise children apart rather than together, there will be debate on what is best for the children when it comes to custody, time sharing, and child support.

At Bill Beck Law, in Palm Harbor, Florida we look at every situation individually and look at how to help see that a child's best interest is a true priority. Visit our website to learn more.

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