It’s almost summer here in Florida, so just as much as you can start counting on blazing heat and dripping humidity, you can also count on the Florida legislature to start tinkering with Florida family-law related statutes. After a failed attempt at passing a flawed alimony reform bill in 2016, mainly due to an inclusion of a provision that would have created a presumption of equal timesharing between parents, the Florida Legislature is back now with what appears to another timesharing bill that would fundamentally alter how timesharing and parental contact would be addressed by Judges throughout the State.
Working it’s way through the chambers of the State’s Congress is a bill that would again purport to create a presumption of equal timesharing between parents in divorce or paternity actions. The bill has language that says “approximately equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is presumed to be in the best interest of the child.” In then determining whether this presumption should be overcome, the statute would have the Court go on to consider over twenty (20) factors, many already stated in Florida Statute 61.13(3), such as:
* The demonstrated capacity to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.
* 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.
* The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
These, of course, would only be a few of the factors for the Courts to consider per the proposed legislation, but the codification of a presumption of equal timesharing would create a monumental shift in Florida law. At present, Florida law uses a “best interests of the child” standard in determining issues of timesharing, with Florida Statute 61.13 dictating that the determination of the best interests is made by evaluating the factors affecting the welfare and interests of a particular minor child and the specific circumstances of their family. By creating a presumption of equal timesharing, it appears, that while still a consideration, the best interests of the child standard may be relegated to being just another factor for the Court to consider when fashioning timesharing schedules, rather than the primary factor.
And therein lies the problem with any legislation that would deem to create a blanket presumption of equal timesharing under Florida law for all family cases. If there’s one thing we know about families, it’s that everyone’s family is unique and when it comes to something as important as how a child will spend their time with one or both of their parents, each child deserves an individual assessment by the Court, with the primary factor being their best interests.
Another potential problem that an equal timesharing presumption would create would be the eventual avalanche of new cases that would be re-opened by eager parents trying to test the limits of this new, potential presumption. Now that’s not to say that parents should not be entitled to equal timesharing, rather the distinction must be that such equal timesharing should not presumed to be best for a child, when in life, we all know, that things are not always equal, or black or white, but in most cases varying shades of gray that must carefully considered, and Florida’s current timesharing statute accomplishes that by leaving a child’s best interest as the paramount consideration.