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Bill could change Florida family law

Spouses often decide that it is in the best interest of the family if they go their separate ways. As difficult of a decision as this likely is to make, there are many more challenging decisions that follow, especially if the couple has children. In some cases, judges are tasked with the duty of deciding how child custody should be arranged when parents are unable to come to a decision on their own. A recent bill in the Florida Senate could change how judges view family law issues such as custody.

Under the current law, judges have a great deal of discretion in determining child custody arrangements. They have 20 different criteria to consider, along with other issues to examine before issuing a judgment. However, the Senate recently passed a bill that requires judges to presume that equal custody is in the best interest of a child. If custody is not equally split, they must issue an order explaining their decision in detail.

The bill has both supporters and opponents. Those in favor claim that the bill is supported by research that reportedly shows that children whose parents share custody are better adjusted, according to measures such as school performance, behavioral issues and self-esteem. Opponents argue that it interferes with judicial discretion, perhaps predisposing judges to award shared custody even in situations that it may not be in the best interest of the child.

Although the bill passed the Senate by a 23-15 vote, it must still pass the House. Even if the bill does not ultimately become law, it could still impact family law. Discussions regarding it could potentially make Florida judges more aware of the pros and cons of equally shared custody. Because each family's circumstances are unique, many parents fighting for custody often employ an experienced attorney who can help ensure that their voice is heard.

Source: Miami Herald, "Florida Senate passes bill that helps give divorced parents equal time with children", Michael Auslen, Feb. 23, 2016

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