Florida, like most other states, considers “the best interests of the child” when deciding disputes over time-sharing and parental responsibility, otherwise known as child custody. Florida’s factors are set forth in Section 61.13(3) of the Florida Statutes. There are twenty factors, and we’ve been examining them one at a time in this blog. Today we’ll take a look at factor (c), “the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.” In other words: putting your child’s needs first, even above your own.
If you are a parent, your first thought in response to reading that phrase may have been, “Of course I put my child’s needs first.” But what does it really mean to consider and act on your child’s needs instead of your own?
CONSIDERING YOUR CHILD’S NEEDS BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER DIVORCE
Especially in the context of a divorce, it can be easy to confuse your child’s needs and yours, especially where contact with your ex-spouse is concerned. If your ex-spouse has treated you poorly, for example, it’s easy to leap to the conclusion that they are a bad person, and that it is in your child’s best interests to spend as little time with them as possible.
If the other parent is unstable, abusing chemical substances, or abusive, it may be true that your child should not be alone with them. Most of the time, however, it is in your child’s best interest to have a strong relationship with the other parent, and it is within your power to help that happen. Not only should you make sure your child gets to see their other parent, but you should also present a positive attitude about it. You should not make your child feel guilty for “leaving” you to spend time with the other parent, for missing them, or for enjoying their time together.
Another way you can demonstrate that you are putting your child’s needs first is to refrain from saying negative things about the other parent to your child. You may be angry at the other parent, perhaps very justifiably so. But it does not benefit your child to hear about that anger. Choosing to vent to your child is a sign to the court that you are putting your needs above your child’s.
What are other ways that you can (and should) put your child’s needs first? Maintaining their usual routines, so far as that is possible, is a big help. The divorce process shakes the foundations of a child’s world. Being able to rely on a routine promotes stability and helps your child adjust to the “new normal.”
The court will take into account each parent’s history of attending to the child’s needs before the divorce process as well. If the child wakes up crying in the night, which parent got up to comfort him or her? Who took off work to care for the child if he or she was sick? Was one parent the “default” parent, staying home in the evening with the child while the other went to happy hour after work or out with friends? Does one parent treat caring for the child like their most important responsibility, while the other treats it like an inconvenience?
SHOWING THE COURT THAT YOU PUT YOUR CHILD’S NEEDS FIRST
It’s one thing to have a track record of putting your child’s needs ahead of your own and prioritizing their well-being. What is important in your custody determination is how well the court understands that track record. You may know everything that goes on in your family life, but the judge deciding this issue will only get snapshots, so it is important that he or she get a picture of your family life that is accurate.
This is where your choice of attorney makes a difference. An experienced Florida family law attorney will know how to select and present the right evidence to demonstrate that your child’s needs are your primary consideration, and that you will honor them. That is not to say you should not take care of your own needs; after all, if you don’t care for yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else. But you want the court to be able to see how seriously you take the responsibility to care, emotionally and physically, for a child who is entirely dependent on you.If you have questions about this “best interests” factor or any other aspect of Florida child custody, please contact family lawyer Antonio Jimenez to schedule a consultation.