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Parental Rights After Divorce: Five Things to Know

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Marriage dissolution changes a family’s living arrangements, at least in most cases. A few divorced spouses continue living together as roommates, but these instances are rare. Furthermore, divorce alters emotional dynamics, especially if either or both spouses remarry. But in many other respects, the family remains the same. That’s especially true in Florida, which has a co-parenting law.

Since both parents must work together to raise their children, both parents also need to be keenly aware of their rights and responsibilities toward each other, and more importantly, toward their children.

Parental Responsibility

This first area is more theoretical than legal. PR, or Parental Responsibility, includes decisions like which doctor the children will see, where they will go to school, where they will live, what religion they will be exposed to (if any), and so on.

By default, mothers have total parental responsibility for their children. Fathers assume part of this responsibility if they adopt a child or if they are married to a woman when she gives birth. Step-parents, grandparents, and other adults may also assume part of this responsibility, in certain situations.

Divorce does not alter this fundamental truth. Both parents still have some PR. However, the decree usually states that the residential parent has the final say in these matters. The non-residential parent may challenge the residential parent’s decision, but to do so, a Maitland family law attorney must file a motion in court.

Relocation

This right is a subset of Parental Responsibility, but it deserves some additional attention, largely because relocation is so frequent. Although the residential parent has the right to designate the child’s residence, only the judge can give permission to relocate.

In Florida, a streamlined procedure may be available in short-distance moves that are less than fifty miles. In other cases, mediation may help parents reach an agreement and avoid a court battle. These agreements often involve some give-and-take.

Major Legal Decisions

Once again, this right is a subset of Parental Responsibility. If the residential parent wants to take the children out of the country, the nonresidential parent effectively has a veto power. Generally, the State Department requires both parents to sign off on passport applications, even if the parents are divorced. Additionally, if the residential parent wants to change the child’s name, the non-residential parent does not exactly have a veto power, but this person has a strong voice in the process.

Finances

Many parents stumble and fall in this area. Essentially, financial arrangements for the children are independent from custody and visitation arrangements. Non-residential parents may not reduce their contact with their children to reduce their child support obligations. And, residential parents may not condition such contact on the payment of child support.

It’s important to keep these areas separate. Judges take a very dim view of parents who cut off their children to reduce their monthly bills or parents who essentially hold the children for ransom (e.g. Scotty can come over when you catch up on your child support payments).

Contact

PR does not automatically include the right to interact with one’s children. However, there is a presumption in Florida that children benefit from frequent and meaningful contact with both their parents.

The nature of that contact is open. Generally, overnight visits are the preferred form of non-residential parent/child contact. But for one reason or another, such contact is not always practical or possible. So, electronic visitation via text, Skype, and so on may be almost as good. Supervised contact may be an option as well.

There is a difference between actual contact and the right to contact. Even if non-residential parents lose actual contact, they still have the right to contact.

Contact an Aggressive Lawyer

Divorce changes some parental rights and responsibilities, but not all of them. For a confidential consultation with an experienced Maitland family attorney, contact The Troum Law Firm, P.A. After-hours visits are available.

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