Child Custody in Florida

In the face of divorce, there may be complex issues or decisions to be made about child custody. In Florida, as in many states, the courts prioritize the best interests of the child when determining custody arrangements. But what exactly does "the best interest of the child" mean within the context of Florida law? 

How can divorcing or divorced parents deal with shared parental responsibilities, time-sharing schedules, and other critical factors? 

What are the different types of child custody in Florida?

In Florida, child custody is categorized into two main types: physical and legal custody. Each of these types can be sole or joint.

Physical custody

This refers to where the child will live. The parent with primary physical custody is the one with whom the child resides most of the time. If parents have joint physical custody, the child spends substantial time living with both parents.

Legal custody

This pertains to decision-making rights about the child's upbringing, including decisions about education, healthcare, extracurricular activities, and religion. A parent with sole legal custody has exclusive rights to make these decisions, while joint legal custody allows both parents to have a say. 

Florida courts seek joint legal custody whenever possible.

Sole custody

In some cases, one parent may be awarded sole physical and legal custody, meaning the child lives with them and they have the exclusive right to make decisions about the child's life. However, this is less common and typically occurs when one parent is deemed unfit or it's in the child's best interest to live with only one parent.

Read: Does Sole Custody Terminate Parental Rights?

Joint custody arrangements

Also known as shared parental responsibility, this is the most common custody arrangement in Florida. Parents share the decision-making responsibilities for the child (joint legal custody), and the child spends significant time with both parents (joint physical custody). 

The precise schedule will depend on factors like the parents' work schedules, the child's school location, and other logistical considerations.

Florida law encourages shared parental responsibility except in cases where it would be detrimental to the child. The courts generally believe that maintaining contact with both parents benefits the child, provided it is safe and healthy to do so.

How does the child custody determination process work in Florida?

The child custody determination process in Florida is guided by the principle of the best interests of the child. As such, neither parent enters this process with a leg up. 

Below is a step-by-step guide through the process:

Filing a petition

The process begins when one or both parents file a petition for dissolution of marriage or a petition to establish paternity (for unmarried parents). This petition should include a proposed parenting plan.

Parenting plan

A parenting plan outlines how the parents will share and be responsible for the daily tasks associated with raising the child. It includes time-sharing schedules and designates who will be responsible for health care, school-related matters, and other activities.

Mediation or negotiation

If the parents can agree on a plan for their parenting, they can submit it to the court. If they cannot agree, they may go to mediation or negotiate through their attorneys to try to reach an agreement.

Evaluation by the court

In cases where parents cannot agree, the court will determine the parenting plan. The judge considers several factors when devising a plan to serve the child's best interests. These factors include the child's health and safety, the emotional ties between the parents and the child, the parents' moral fitness, the child's school and community record, and more.

Court decision

After evaluating all the evidence, the judge will make a decision on the parenting plan, including time-sharing and decision-making responsibility.


If circumstances change significantly, either parent can request a modification of the custody order. However, the court will only grant a modification if it is in the child's best interests and the change in circumstances is substantial.

Thinking about mediation? Read our article, What to Expect in Mediation, to learn how to prepare and what to expect.

Filing fees associated with child custody cases in Florida

If you're engaging in a custody dispute during a divorce proceeding, you won't have any other filing fee in Florida. If not, you'll have to file a separate legal action which requires a new filing fee. This fee may range from $300 to $500. You'll also have fees for service of process, copies of documents, and any required attorney fees.

What to know about joint custody schedules in Florida

Joint custody schedules, also known as time-sharing schedules in Florida, are designed to ensure that a child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after divorce or separation. These schedules are part of the parenting plan required in all cases that involve time-sharing with minor children.

There are several common time-sharing schedules in Florida:

2-2-3 schedule

In this weekly arrangement, the child spends two days with one parent. Then, they spend two days with the other parent. This is followed by three days back with the first parent. The pattern repeats the following week but starts with the second parent.

3-4-4-3 schedule

One parent gets three days with the child. Then, the other parent gets four days with the child. The following week, the first parent gets four days with the child, and the other parent spends three days.

2-2-5-5 schedule

In this arrangement, the child stays for two days with one parent and two days with the other. Then, they spend five days with the first parent and five days with the other. This pattern repeats.

Every other weekend

In this schedule, the child lives with one parent during the week. They live with the other parent every other weekend, usually from Friday evening to Sunday evening.

Courts in the state of Florida encourage parents to work out their own time-sharing agreement based on their circumstances and the child's best interests. If parents cannot agree, the court will decide the time-sharing schedule. Factors considered by the court include the child's school schedule, each parent's work schedule, the distance between the parents' homes, and the child's age and needs.

Finally, it's important to note that these schedules can be adjusted for holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions.

What to know about child visitation in Florida

For the parent who does not have the majority of the time-sharing, the specific schedule can vary widely based on many factors. These factors include the child's age, the parents' work schedules, and the distance between the parents' homes.

The time-sharing schedule could include:

Every other weekend: This is a common arrangement. The non-custodial parent spends time with the child every other weekend, typically from Friday evening to Sunday evening.

One evening during the week: In addition to every other weekend, the non-custodial parent may also have one evening during the week for a few hours with the child.

Shared holidays and vacations: Holidays, school breaks, and vacations are often divided between the parents. The specifics can vary; some families alternate holidays each year, while others may split the day itself.

Extended time in summer: The non-custodial parent often gets an extended period of time with the child during the summer break.

Special occasions: Birthdays and other special occasions are also usually shared, or alternated, between parents.

It's important to remember that these are just examples. The actual time-sharing schedule can be customized to fit the needs of the child and the circumstances of the parents. The guiding principle is always the best interests of the child. If the parents cannot agree on a time-sharing schedule, the court will decide.

How is child support determined in Florida?

In Florida, child support is determined using an Income Shares Model. This model attempts to estimate the amount of money the parents would have spent on their children if they had remained together. The estimated amount is then divided between the two parents based on their incomes.

Here's a step-by-step guide on how child support is calculated:

  • Determine each parent's monthly income: Both parents' gross income is calculated, including wages, bonuses, commissions, allowances, overtime, tips, and other forms of income. Certain deductions are allowed, such as taxes, health insurance premiums, mandatory union dues, and income from non-joint children.
  • Combine the incomes: Add the parents' monthly incomes together.
  • Refer to the child support guidelines chart: Florida has established guidelines that determine the base level of child support needed based on the combined monthly income and the number of children. This chart can be found in section 61.30 of the Florida Statutes.
  • Calculate income shares: Each parent's percentage share of the combined income is calculated. This percentage is then applied to the base child support amount to determine each parent's responsibility.
  • Factor in additional costs: Additional expenses like child care costs, health insurance, and uninsured medical expenses are added to the basic obligation and divided between the parents according to their income shares.
  • Consider time-sharing arrangements: The amount of time the child spends with each parent can also affect the child support calculation. If a child spends a significant amount of overnights with the noncustodial parent (at least 73 nights per year), the law considers this "substantial time-sharing" and may reduce the child support payment to reflect this.

How to change a custody or visitation order in Florida

In Florida, changing or modifying a child custody order, also known as a parenting plan, requires showing that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that was unexpected. The proposed modification must serve the child’s best interest, too.

Here are the steps.

File a supplemental petition

The parent seeking the modification must file a "Supplemental Petition to Modify Parenting Plan/Time-Sharing Schedule and Other Relief" with the circuit court clerk in the county where the original order was issued.

Serve the other parent

The other parent must be formally served with a copy of the supplemental petition and given an opportunity to respond.

Parenting course

If it's been more than a year since you last took a parenting course, you might be required to complete a court-approved parenting course.


If the parents can't agree on the changes, the court may order mediation. This is a process where a neutral third party (the mediator) helps the parents reach an agreement.

Court hearing

If the parents still can't reach an agreement after mediation, the case will go to a hearing or trial. Both parents can present evidence and testimony to support their position.

Court order

After considering all the evidence, the judge will decide whether to grant the modification. The decision will be based on whether the changes are in the child's best interests.

If you have questions about child custody in Florida, Hello Divorce may be able to help. We offer online mediation, legal advice, and other helpful services. We also offer flat-rate online divorce plans. If you would like to know more, we invite you to schedule a free 15-minute phone call with an account coordinator.


2023 Florida Statues. Official Internet Site of the Florida Legislature.

Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.