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Can stability be provided with a shared custody arrangement?

What role does physical presence play in a legal child custody determination? Based on a recent decision, the way courts approach this issue may be changing.

Specifically, a state court recently reversed a lower trial court’s custody ruling regarding the need for a child to have a primary residence during the school year. In the case, the mother had sought to change the joint custody schedule she shared for several years with the child’s father. Under the original arrangement, the father had custody of the minor child every Monday through Wednesday, as well as alternating weekends. 

When the child reached the age of entering school full-time, the mother sought a modification of that arrangement, seeking primary physical custody. The lower court agreed with the mother’s assertion that the child needed a single residence during the school week. The lower court awarded the mother five-day custody during the school year, but a return to the old schedule during the summers. 

The father appealed, specifically citing the multiple factors used to determine child custody under state law. Notably, one of those factors referenced the importance of providing continuity and stability in a child’s education, family and community environment. The father asserted that the child’s weekly commuting was far less disruptive than an abrupt modification to the care pattern of shared custody that had been provided to the child for years.

The case is an important reminder that old notions of primary custody may not match modern family arrangements. Indeed, our family law firm has helped many parents negotiate a shared custody arrangement, where neither parent has primary custody. To learn more about the various factors that Florida courts consider when making child custody determinations, visit our website.

Source: The Legal Intelligencer, “Primary Custody of Child Not Required During School Year,” Feb. 3, 2016

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