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5 Popular Myths About Child Custody in Florida

Child Custody in Florida

5 Popular Myths About Child Custody in Florida

Following a divorce, child custody is usually one of the most divisive issues that parents have to face. Parents may disagree over who deserves custody, what the visitation hours should be, and who should pay child support (as well as how much). Florida state law sets the guidelines for child custody disputes, but even so, many myths have formed around child custody disputes. Take a look at these 5 common myths about child custody in Florida, and separate the facts from the fiction.

Myths About Child Custody in Florida

  1. Joint custody eliminates the need for child support.
    “Joint custody” actually comes in two forms: legal and physical. Parents that have joint legal custody share equally in making decisions about the child, but they may not have joint physical custody, which is when the children split their time equally between both parents. It is joint physical custody that leads to the creation of this myth; many people are under the impression that if both parents care for the children for equal amounts of time, there is no need for child support. However, under Florida state law, there are two conditions that need to be met in order for this to be true: the parents have to have equal incomes, and they must split all expenditures on the children equally. For example, both parents would have to spend equal amounts on the children’s medical care, personal expenses, and food. If these two conditions are not met, child support must be paid by at least one parent; thus, joint custody does not completely eliminate the need for child support. 
  2. The parent with more money pays child support.
    Child support in Florida is determined by a mathematical formula that takes many factors into account; income is only one of them. The formula looks at parents’ yearly income as well as assets; it also considers the amount of time spent with each parent, travel expenses, medical expenses, and other aspects of child care. Furthermore, it is a myth that only one parent has to pay child support; in most cases, both parents have to contribute to the care of the child, but in different amounts. The formula determines how much each parent is required to contribute, depending on the factors listed above.
  3. Child support payments end once the child turns 18.
    Florida state law mandates that child support payments continue until the child graduates from high school, which may occur before or after the child turns 18. The law mandates that if the child graduates from high school after turning 18, child support payments should continue, even after the child is a legal adult – specifically, until the age of 19. Essentially, child support must be paid until graduation or until the child turns 19 (whichever comes first). It is also a common myth that child support back payments that are owed to the parent cannot be collected after the child turns 18. There is no limit on child support back payments; if a parent owes money, this must be paid as soon as possible. Non-payment can result in serious consequences; the Division of Child Support Enforcement monitors payments, and is authorized to confiscate the driver’s license and passport of a parent that does not keep up with child support payments.
  4. Mothers automatically have priority over child custody.
    This is a myth not only in Florida, but all across America – many people automatically assume that in a child custody dispute, the mother has a stronger claim to custody. Legally, this is untrue; both parents are evaluated based on their merit and their ability to care for the child. Other factors are considered as well, courts can look at childrens’ preferences as well as which parent can provide a more stable home that encourages the child’s physical and mental health. The myth arose because statistically (in the past), mothers have obtained sole custody much more frequently than fathers. In fact, according to one study,  84.4 percent of parents with sole custody in 2002 were mothers. However, this does not mean that courts are more likely to choose a mother for sole custody over a father simply because she is the mother; instead, it shows that courts find the mother to be the primary caregiver (and thus be more able to provide a safe and stable home for the child) more often than they do the father.
  5. Child support can only be spent on the children.
    Because the parent receiving child support is expected to not only provide for the direct needs of the children, but to create a safe and stable home, child support can be used to pay for things such as the mortgage, utilities, insurance, transportation, and other aspects of daily life. Parents paying child support cannot dictate what this money will be spent on.