I frequently have conversations with prospective clients that go something like this:
Me: What kind of parenting time do you have?
Prospective client: We have shared custody?
Me: You have equal time-sharing?
Prospective client: Yes, I have every other weekend.
Me: Do you mean you have “shared parental responsibility?”
Prospective client: I’m not sure what I have, except I have every other weekend.
Most people get confused with the terms that our Florida Statutes, Lawyers and Courts use in describing parenting-time and parental responsibility. Here is a quick overview of what they are and what they mean.
For many years, the courts in Florida have embraced the idea that a child of divorced parents should have both parents confer with each and make joint decisions about things like after-school activities, medical care, religious upbringing and a whole host of things that relate to the care and well-being and raising of a child. The court did not find it desirable to have the “custodial” parent making all those important child-rearing decisions without input from the other parent.
Defining Shared Parental Responsibility
Under Chapter 61, Florida Statutes, the court will typically require that the divorcing/divorced parents have “shared parental responsibility.” Sometimes this is also casually referred to as, “joint parental responsibility,” This is where the confusion starts.
“Joint Parental Responsibility” is not the same as “Joint Custody” or “Shared Custody.” Joint custody is where each parent has “custody” of the child for roughly equal lengths of time. There is definitely a trend towards parents having “equal time sharing,” but the day is still not here when the court finds 50/50 custody is the starting place for creating a parenting plan. In my practice, I see the trend more and more but only about 60% of the families I work with end up with a workable equal-parenting time arrangement.
So, “shared parental responsibility” or “joint parental responsibility” may sound like “Joint Custody” or “Shared Custody,” but they are just not same things.
With “shared parental responsibility,” both parents have full rights and responsibilities to the care of their child. This includes making major decisions that will affect the child’s well-being.
Parents must consult and confer with each other on matters concerning the welfare and best interests of the child. When it comes to medical care or education, these decisions should be made jointly, if possible, after the parents have talked to each other.
Nevertheless, in a typical dissolution of marriage case, there is usually one parent that will have more overnights with the child than the other parent. This was previously referred to as the “primary custodial parent.” But when the statutes changed, the legislature removed any term relating to “custody.” Now we have 2 parents, children, and parenting-time. There is no custody or primary residence anymore. Yet none of these nomenclature changes in our Statutes take away from the fact that both parents share in the parental rights and responsibilities for the child.