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Florida Best Interests Factors: Home, School, and Community Record of the Child

Florida, like other states, has a “best interests of the child” standard for determining child custody (which in Florida is called parental responsibility and time-sharing). In order to determine what is in the best interests of a child, Florida courts consider a laundry list of “best interests factors” set forth in Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3). We have been examining these factors one at a time in this space, and it is time to take a look at “the home, school, and community record of the child.”

What exactly does “the home, school, and community record of the child” mean? Is there some all-encompassing “permanent record” (like the one we were all warned about in school) being kept on every child, just waiting to be pulled out in their parents’ divorce or custody hearing?

Not exactly. This particular factor can be viewed as an assessment of how a child is thriving (or struggling) in their current environment, and considering the effect of changing the environment. This factor is often weighed together with related factors, such as the stability of the child’s environment, or the child’s developmental needs.

WHAT IS THE HOME, SCHOOL, AND COMMUNITY RECORD OF THE CHILD?

As you might imagine, a child’s “record” will be more substantial the older he or she is; for a baby or toddler, there may not be much of a “record” to speak of. In reviewing this factor, the court will take a look at things like report cards and other educational records; medical records; and information on behavior and disciplinary issues. If a child has been involved in a juvenile delinquency or criminal matter, that would certainly be relevant.

Of course, the parents’ respective involvement in the child’s life is a part of this record, too. Are the parents making sure the child is getting needed medical attention? Are there disciplinary issues at school, and if so, how are the parents responding to those issues? When the parents live apart, will living with one parent or the other have an impact on the child’s home, school, and community record?

Courts certainly look at documents when considering this factor (after all, when we think of a “record,” we think of a tangible recording). However, there is nothing to prevent a court from considering testimony from witnesses who know about the child’s behavioral, educational, or medical history.

WHEN THE “SCHOOL” RECORD IS A HOMESCHOOL

An increasing number of Florida families over the last few decades have chosen to homeschool their children. In 2016, the Florida Bar estimated that 75,000 Florida children were being educated at home, and the number has likely increased since then.

While homeschooling has a number of benefits for children, including more one-on-one attention and the ability to customize an educational plan to their needs, it may pose a problem in custody disputes. Typically, one parent is responsible for administering the children’s education, which may work well when the parents are together. When the parents separate, giving the parents equal control over the children’s schooling has the potential to disrupt their education. This is an issue that Florida family law attorneys are beginning to encounter more frequently.

WHAT YOUR CHILD’S HOME, SCHOOL, AND COMMUNITY RECORD MEANS FOR YOUR FLORIDA CUSTODY CASE

It can be tempting to obsess over what your child’s history means for your future together, but remember: the “home, school, and community record of the child” is only one aspect in a list of twenty best interests factors.

Remember to focus on the bigger picture: how your parental responsibility and time-sharing arrangements will contribute to your child’s functioning and stability in the future. Your Florida family law attorney will help you present evidence in favor of your position, showing not only that you have helped your child be successful in the past, but that you will continue to do so. To the extent that you are seeking changes to your child’s home setting, education, or car, your lawyer will help you show the court that those changes are designed to benefit your child. If you have questions about the Florida best interest factors, we invite you to contact Florida family lawyer Antonio Jimenez to schedule a consultation.

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