Changing Custody Arrangements In Florida
Like the ones in most other states, Florida family law judges almost always respect custody and visitation agreements between divorcing that both parties voluntarily signed and uphold the best interests of the children. The same thing applies to divorce modification. As a rule of thumb, most divorce orders need to be modified at least once every three or four years, to keep up with the changing nature of the family. This pattern is especially true if the children were young when the couple got divorced.
Also like most other states, Florida has a relatively streamlined process for agreed modifications, as judges almost always approve voluntary modification agreements that are in the children’s best interest. One mistake many parents make is relying on informal side agreements, such as a chain of text messages or emails. No family law judge will enforce such agreements, so if one party reneges on the deal, the other party has no recourse.
In most cases, the judge does not even hold a hearing on agreed modifications. Instead, it’s normally sufficient to file the written agreement with the clerk so it becomes part of the official record.
There are a few exceptions. For example, if one parent has previously endangered the children, the court is unlikely to approve an agreed modification increasing that party’s parenting time without first holding a hearing.
These proceedings essentially involve a two-step process.
First, the modification itself must pass legal muster. Generally, that means it must address a substantial change in circumstances. Relocation to a new school district, or even a new part of town, normally qualifies as substantial. The same result probably occurs if one parent either overcomes or develops a substance abuse problem. Remarriage by itself may not qualify, partially because it is not unanticipated, but the result may be different if the parent’s new spouse has verifiable and serious anger issues. The change must also either permanent or semi-permanent.
Second, the modification must be in the best interests of the children. This standard is rather ambiguous, but usually involves inquiries like:
- Safety: All children deserve to be in environments where their physical safety is assured and their emotional well-being is prioritized above almost everything else.
- Stability: To the greatest extent possible, judges nearly always seek to uphold the status quo, even if it is not absolutely perfect. There’s an old saying that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.
- Continuing Contact with Both Parents: Judges almost never cut the ties between a parent and child except in truly extreme situations, although they are willing to reduce visitation periods or order supervised visitation.
- Continuing Contact with Extended Family: In some cases, judges will consider a close relationship between the children and grandparents or other relatives before approving or disproving a modification.
Unless they are older teens, children’s preferences are usually relevant to modification proceedings but not dispositive.
Count on Experienced Attorneys
Modifications are almost always part of Florida divorce proceedings. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.