In Florida custody matters, also known as parental responsibility and time-sharing matters, courts consider a variety of “best interests” factors set forth in Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3). One of the many factors includes the history of parental responsibility of each of the parents. Section 61.13(3)(o) of the statute directs a court to consider “(t)he particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.”
This factor goes hand-in-hand with the division of parental responsibilities anticipated after the divorce is final. While that factor looks forward to how parenting tasks are likely to be divided and delegated in the future, this one considers specifically who has been responsible for caring for the children in the past—and who is doing it right now.
PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY PRIOR TO AND DURING LITIGATION
Unfortunately, there are many reasons for a parent to seek custody of their child aside from love for the child and the desire to be active in their lives. Some parents seek custody in order to reduce their child support obligations, for reputational reasons (to be seen as a “good” parent), or simply to hurt their estranged spouse. Taking a good look at whether a parent was really involved in caring for a child before there was any reason to do so “for show” is a pretty good indicator of whether that person is willing and able to be an involved parent after the litigation.
On the other hand, there are also parents who step up their parental responsibility during litigation for good reasons. During the marriage or relationship, they may have focused on providing for the family, freeing the other parent to be more available for caring for the home and child. When it became clear that the romantic relationship was ending, the less-involved parent may have made a conscious decision to become more involved, to strengthen their bond with their child.
The same fact pattern (one parent is less involved with the child prior to litigation, but becomes more involved with the child during the case) can look favorable or unfavorable depending on how it is presented to the court. This is why, especially if your history of parental responsibility does not look strong on paper, it is important to have the help of a skilled Florida custody attorney. The right lawyer can present your story in a way that reflects most favorably upon you and highlights how you will maintain your involvement with your child after the case ends.
Be aware, though, that there is a difference between increasing one’s involvement and responsibility in parenting, and going from almost no involvement to hyper-involvement. This is not to say that, if you have been a largely absent or uninvolved parent, you shouldn’t try to increase your parental responsibility. Just know that a significant lack of responsibility in the past is going to be a significant burden to overcome, and ask your lawyer how best to deal with that.
THE ROLE OF THIRD-PARTY CAREGIVERS
If you are a parent who works outside of the home, there is a good chance that you have needed to enlist the help of third-party caregivers for your child: a nanny or au pair, day care center, neighbor or relative. Florida courts will take a look at this, as well. The involvement of third-party caregivers for your child is not necessarily a negative.
Courts will consider various aspects of the outside help in caring for your child. Was it on a regular basis? Who chose the caregiver? Were they trustworthy and reliable, or were there issues of concern? Was the care necessary, such as to allow a parent or parents to work, or did one parent leave the child with the caregiver frequently to avoid parenting duties? How often was the child with the caregiver as opposed to the parent, especially when the parent could have been caring for the child? When the caregiver needed to contact one of the parents regarding an issue regarding the child, which parent was called? Will the parent need to rely heavily on the assistance of a third-party caregiver in the future if granted the amount of time-sharing he or she is seeking?
You need not worry that the court will consider you a bad or unfit parent if you must use a third-party caregiver. However, if you use a caregiver to avoid the responsibilities of parenting, you should know that Florida courts have frowned upon that type of use. If you have questions about how your history of parental responsibility could affect your Florida custody matter, please contact Miami divorce attorney Antonio Jimenez to schedule a consultation.