Florida divorce and paternity cases often have a child component, which many refer to as a custody battle. Custody obviously refers to which parent will have the children after the divorce or paternity action is over and ultimately determines which parent will be responsible for paying child support. The term, “custody battle,” initiates any child action with a sense of war between two parents. In 2008, the Florida legislature changed child custody to “primary time-sharing parent,” in an effort to alleviate the idea of going to war over children and ultimately, simply phrasing the legal action so that parents understand that they are, in fact, sharing the children’s time. While the law changed in 2008, most Floridians, at least in Jacksonville where I practice divorce and family law, do not know the new term. The reason is two-fold, one reason is that like anything new, it takes time to get used to and a four year time-frame really isn’t that long after a generation grew up with the movie Kramer vs. Kramer, all revolving around a custody battle.
The change in the law is one that is designed to help parents focus on the overall outcome, the sharing of their child and not focus on who has the child more. However, even with name changes, the overall picture is still the same. When involved in a custody or time-sharing dispute in Florida, the law has not really changed as far as determining the correct parent to have majority time-sharing. The court is responsible for looking at a number of factors, including which parent is more likely to facilitate an ongoing healthy relationship with the child and the other parent, the stability of the parent, the parent’s ability to take care of the child, etc. When two parents fight over the custody or time-sharing issue, the court can actually order the parents to participate in a Custody Evaluation or Social Investigation. The social investigator actually meets with the parents and the children individually and sometimes in a parent/child session to see how the parent and child interact with one another. In addition, the social investigator may conduct a home study where she/he goes to the home of each parent to see the environment the children would live in.
Once the investigator has interviewed the parents and children, she/he may find it necessary to speak with other family members, school officials, friends, etc. to get a better understanding of the family dynamics. If there are issues of mental health or physical health issues of either parent, then the investigator may require medical records be provided so that a full evaluation can be completed. The social investigator takes all components of the investigation to reach a conclusion as to what is in the best interest of the children. While the social investigator’s opinions are helpful to a court, the court is not bound by investigator’s overall conclusion and the court must still look at all factors before determining which parent is most likely going to provide the safest, healthiest, most stable environment for the children.
The social investigation allows the parties and the children to have an opportunity to address concerns and issues regarding the home life. The kids may not be able to testify in court, but since they are part of the investigation, it does allow them a voice when they otherwise may not have one. For more information, contact a divorce or family law attorney if you are going through a divorce or paternity action.