When people get divorced, they often worry that they will no longer have any parental rights if a custody battle does not turn out their way. They fear that if the other spouse ends up with the majority of timesharing, they will be left out in the cold, unable to raise their own child or make the decisions that they should be able to make as a parent.
Timesharing is Not Custody
The good news is that you have rights as a parent that can never be taken away from you absent you doing something truly something horrible making you patently unfit to parent, which would result in a dependency proceeding from the state—but that is entirely different than the timesharing decisions that happen in a family law case.
No matter what schedule is decided on by you and your ex-spouse, and no matter what a judge may decide when it comes to timesharing, your parental rights are almost never terminated. In fact, parents have a constitutional right to raise their kids and make decisions for them.
Your rights as a parent will often be spelled out in a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a form put out by the Florida Supreme Court, which details what each parent will be responsible for when it comes to making decisions in the child’s life. In every custody case, whether the parties resolve amicably, or whether a result of a contested divorce and custody case, a parenting plan must be completed by the parties.
In some cases, the parent with time-sharing with the child will have the legal ability and right to make decisions for the child, when the child is with them. But other times, and for other matters, it does not matter which parent the child is physically residing with or whose house the child is physically at—the parent’s legal right to be part of their children’s lives, carries on.
For example, for extracurricular activities for the child, the law (and thus the parenting plan) may allow any parent to register the child, even without the consent of the other. However, for more major decisions, like the decision to get medical care, or participate in a given religion, consent for both parents may be necessary, regardless of where the child is physically located.
Terminating Your Rights
You may wonder whether your rights as a parent can be terminated, even if the court finds that you abuse drugs or alcohol, you have a criminal record, you received a DUI, or that there is something else in your background that you worry the court will look at, and find you unfit to parent.
Although these are all very serious things that a court will look at and consider, and although they may all affect your ability to have time with your child, rarely will they ever completely terminate your rights as a parent. Rather, when factors like these occur in a family law case, the court may order limited visitation, or supervised visitation, at least for a certain period of time. The family law/divorce court will almost never be able to just take away your rights as a parent, or your ability to meaningfully participate in your child’s life.
What About Responsibilities?
Like all things in life, your rights come with some responsibilities. But courts are often hesitant to detail responsibilities because of your constitutional right to raise your child as you see fit.
Certainly, the law requires the basic care that you would imagine a child has a right to expect from a parent. For example, the right to a safe environment, to a parent who protects the child, the right to food, the right to be educated, and the right to medical care may all be considered things that are parental responsibilities.
To see that you are or can provide these things, a court will often look at your lifestyle and see if it is one that is conducive to the child’s well-being, safety, and health. The court (and likely, your ex-spouse, in a contested custody case) may raise issues as to where you live, where the child will sleep, what your lifestyle is, any bad habits that you may have, whether you can adequately manage the child’s educational needs and whether you are able to be involved in your child’s life.
But outside of those kinds of basic requirements, your responsibilities as a parent will largely be dictated by your marital settlement agreement (or by the court, if your case does not settle). Again, Florida’s parenting plan will list basic responsibilities that both parties must follow.
For example, the law doe not require that you raise your child in an orthodox Jewish household, that you take him to football practice, or that he be fed only a vegetarian diet. These are parental decisions, up to you as a parent. However, if you and your spouse have agreed as part of a divorce agreement that any of these (or things like these) must be followed, then you do have a parental responsibility to comply with these requirements.
Getting Along With the Other Parent
One responsibility that all parents have, in every custody case, is the responsibility to get along with each other and work cooperatively, at least enough to make life easier for the child. You do not have to like your ex-spouse (although that helps), but constant fighting, belittling the other parent, or using the child as a “weapon” against the other parent will almost always be seen by the court as a violation of your basic parental responsibilities.
Abiding by Your Responsibilities
Often, parents will agree to things in mediation, or as part of a marital settlement agreement when it comes to kids, with the thought that they will eventually just ignore the requirements, and raise the child however they want, when the child is in their care or custody. However, doing so is a violation of the agreement (or the court order approving the agreement), and can land a parent in some serious trouble. Understanding your parental rights and responsibilities can help you work toward a peaceful solution to the issues in your divorce and custody case. An attorney at the Law Firm of Anthony J. Diaz can help you negotiate a peaceful resolution to your divorce agreement. Contact us to better understand what your rights and responsibilities are in your custody or timesharing case.