Joint custody generally means that both parents retain legal responsibility for the health, education, and welfare of their children, and that the children spend time with both parents. Generally, it is both the most preferred and most likely outcome of a divorce; in fact, in Florida, it is embodied in the laws. In Florida, the term “joint custody” is not used; rather, the same concept is referred to as “Shared Parental Responsibility.” It is public policy that parental responsibility for children be shared between the divorcing parents unless there is evidence that it would be detrimental. Therefore, joint parenting continues despite the legal dissolution of the marriage. This means that the parents must agree on issues such as non-emergency medical treatment, or whether to allow the child to participate in a sport or other school activity.
The agreement can be written in minute detail or in more general terms with regard to the division of time. It could provide for every other weekend visitation, or for rotating custody, or any variation the parties can agree upon. Many divorcing couples are able to work together, determine what is best for themselves and their particular children, and express it in an agreement. Most co-parents are also able to get along with each other well enough to make the agreement “workable”; however, if the original conflicts between the parties were never resolved, or if their circumstances have changed, they may wind up back in court to modify or enforce the agreement. The needs of very young children change over time, so many agreements will contain specific changes to the amount or kind of visitation over the course of the years. Many times, the agreement will provide a mechanism for resolving future disputes, such as a requirement that the parties attend mediation before filing for any judicial relief.
Kenneth A. Friedman, Esq. is a partner with the family-law firm Baldwin & Friedman in Fort Lauderdale, and he also practices mediation with Compromise Solutions.