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Current Trends in Florida Family Law - The Children

When people ask me, “What makes family law in Florida different from family law throughout the rest of the country?” the first thing that comes to mind is how Florida handles children’s issues. Florida family law has been progressively moving toward a complete recognition that children have two parents who need to be involved with making the parenting decisions and sharing time with the children. What used to be called “custody” is no more.

Years back, the statute changed the term “custody” to “primary and secondary residential care.” Most recently the term changed to simply “timesharing” which literally means sharing of the children by both parents. It seems the legislative intent of these changes is to stop the thinking that children are “property” to be owned by one or the other parent, and instead have the parties think about really putting the children’s needs first. While this may seem like common sense, the long held notion of “custody” is often one that people have a hard time letting go of when starting the Court process.

Another significant and recent change relating to children is the change in the child support calculations based on the number of over-nights shared by the parties. Child support used to be a straight mathematical calculation based on the parties’ incomes and the cost of daycare and health insurance using legislatively approved guidelines. The changes to the law now also take into account the number of overnights each party has with the children. The details are important. For example, how do the parents define a weekend? If it is defined as from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon then that is only one over-night, but if it is defined as from Friday after school until school resumes on Monday morning that triples the number of over-nights for that parent. As a result, that parent’s child support obligation may reduce significantly.

Whether this is a good change in the law or not is certainly still up for debate. What is clear is that it has resulted in an increased number of parties seeking to modify old support orders. It has also resulted in the occasional “tail wagging the dog,” in other words, people seeking a change in time-sharing for the real purpose of reducing (or increasing) child support. As always, every case is different and you should consult with your lawyer about the specific facts of your situation.

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A spouse who does not make timely support payments can have his or her wages garnished through the Florida Child Support Enforcement Department. The court orders that alimony be automatically taken from the paying spouse's paycheck. The court can also order that the paying spouse give the alimony payments to the Support Enforcement Department, which will give the money to the receiving spouse. The department acts as a third party which manages the collection and distribution of support payments on a statewide basis. If the paying spouse of child support or alimony fails to make timely and sufficient payments, the court can suspend the paying spouse's driver's license.
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