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How do judges in Florida resolve child custody disputes?

Most judges in Florida encourage divorcing couples to work out agreements on emotional issues such as child support and child custody. Unfortunately, some couples are unable to reach an agreement, and the dispute must be decided by the court. Understanding the factors that judges in Florida use in deciding child custody disputes can often help such couples set aside their differences and come to an agreement without going to court.

The overriding factor in Florida is that the "best interests of the child" must be given first priority. However, defining "best interests" in an individual case is often difficult. Judges can consider any relevant information that bears upon the child's best interests, but several factors play a primary role in the decision.

The court usually determines which parent will be better able to take care of the child's physical, emotional, developmental and educational needs. A second factor is which parent will be better able to maintain a stable, loving and nurturing relationship with the child. A third factor is which parent is better able to encourage and allow frequent contact with the non-custodial parent. Courts also consider the relative financial situation of the spouses and the ability of each spouse to earn enough to take care of the child. The court will also look into any history of drug or alcohol abuse by either parent. Criminal charges, depending upon their nature, may also affect the court's decision. If the child is old enough, the court may also consider the child's wishes concerning custody.

Anyone who is contemplating a divorce that will involve issues of child custody may wish to speak to an experienced family lawyer about the factors that may affect the resolution of the custody issue. A knowledgeable attorney can evaluate the situations of each parent and provide advice on the likely outcome of a contested custody dispute.

Source: FindLaw, "Florida Child Custody Laws," Oct. 30, 2017

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