When people inquire about divorceinvolving children,they want to know “who gets custody?” The parent that does not “get custody” often feels they have lost everything and is relegated to being a second class parent. The concept of “custody” has been legally replaced with “shared parental responsibility.” The policy consideration driving the wording change from “custody” to “shared parental responsibility” is that people don’t have custody of their children, they share their children with each other. Shared parental responsibility does not mean that both parents have equal time with the children. It does mean, however, that both parents have full rights to be involved in all major decisions regarding the children. “Time-sharing,” is an altogether separate legal concept referring to the “time, including overnights and holidays that a child will spend with each parent.”

Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes defines shared parental responsibility as “a court-ordered relationship in which both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child and in which both parents confer with each other so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly.”

child custody law

Shared parental responsibility is orderedin the vast majority of all cases. Examples of parenting decisionsthat must be made jointly are non-emergency medical decisions and issues such as whether or not a child may participate in contact sports.

In rare instances a parent may be awarded “sole parental responsibility.” A parent who has been awarded sole parental responsibility is entitled to make all major decisions regarding the child. Sole parental responsibility is different from what is commonly thought of as “sole custody” in that a parent who does not have shared parental responsibility may still exercise time-sharing.

A third, hybrid, type of parental responsibility is sometimes awarded wherein one parentis granted “ultimate decision-making authority”for specific issues. For example, should the court find one parent to be non-compliant in following medical recommendations or medically managing prescription drugs for a chronically ill child, the court may award ultimate decision-making authority to the other parent to ensure the safety and well-being of a type 1 diabetic or asthmatic child.

Courts are required to order shared parental responsibilityunless it would be detrimental to the best interest of the child. The foundational concept and prevailing standard in family law cases involving children is the “best interest of the child.”

“Time-sharing” is a similar but legally distinct concept discussed in a separate article.