Recently, two new laws were signed by Governor Desantis that will bring changes to family courts in Florida. The first is House Bill 1301, which creates a presumption that equal time-sharing between divorced or separated parents is in the best interest of the children they share. The second, House Bill 775, grants equal custody rights and responsibilities to unwed fathers who were not legally named as a natural guardian to their children, as long as they voluntarily acknowledge that they are the father. Both laws went into effect on July 1st, and may influence your pending case if it falls under either of these categories!
In this blog, we’ll cover the new laws and discuss how family court in Florida will change under them.
HB 1301: 50/50 Timesharing Presumption For Minor Children
In Florida, custody and visitation of children is often referred to as “timesharing”. Before House Bill 1301 was enacted, courts devised a time sharing schedule based on what the best interests of the child were. The problem? There was no precedent set for what “best interest” really meant. Under the new law, the precedent is that a child having equal time with both parents is in their best interest.
Previously, the child’s best interest was determined by a judge who considered many factors before ultimately ruling. These included the child’s relationship with both parents, the special needs of the child, whether there was a history of domestic violence, the child’s preference, and any other relevant information each parent presented in court to try and persuade the judge to grant them more time than the other. All of this led to more animosity between the two parties that had the potential to spill over into the lives of their children.
Historically, Florida has had a tendency to stick to the “tender years” doctrine, which led to mothers receiving primary custody in 90% of cases. It is heartbreaking to think of all the fathers who were denied an active role in the lives of their children due to gender bias and stereotypes. However, HB 1301 is a step in the right direction when it comes to a father’s rights in Florida!
It is important to note, however, that the presumption of HB 1301 is able to be rebutted. Some grounds for rebuttal are if the 50/50 presumption would be a “detriment’ to the child. Evidence of detriment to the child include a parent being convicted of a domestic violence charge of first-degree misdemeanor or higher, a parent who has been convicted of a sex-offense against a minor, a parent who is incarcerated, a parent who has voluntarily terminated their rights to the child, and some other scenarios which are fully detailed in the final bill analysis from the Florida House of Representatives. To read, click here.
In the few cases where equal time sharing has been granted, some of the most common schedules established in Florida are:
- Weekly Exchanges
- Bi-Weekly Exchanges
- A 3-4-4-3 Schedule (parent A gets kids for 3 days, followed by parent B for 4, and then the reverse in the next week)
- A 2-2-5-5 Schedule (both parents get kids for 2 days, then 5 days)
- A 2-3-2 schedule (parents alternate days each week)
With this new law enacted, one can hope that there will be many more time sharing schedules granted which reflect those detailed above, instead of schedules where fathers only get to see their children every other weekend!
HB 775: Custody Rights Of Unwed Fathers
One other bill that became effective on July 1st is House Bill 775, which has also been referred to as the “Good Dad” bill. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Benjamin of Miami Gardens, will make it much easier for a father who is not married to the mother of his child to establish paternity and gain parental rights.
Before HB 775, natural guardianship of a child to unwed parents was automatically granted to the mother. Fathers had to undergo an extremely complex legal process with the court to establish paternity and gain parental rights. Now, the pathway to natural guardianship for a father is much simpler: if both parents voluntarily sign a document of acknowledged paternity, the father will be granted his equal rights, and then have a say in their child’s education, health care, religion, timesharing, safety, and all other factors which affect the upbringing of their child.
Florida State Senator Dennis Baxley of Ocala stated that the “brokenness of families and loss of fatherhood” in situations such as these “leads to shortcomings.” The data on fatherless children strongly supports his claim. Studies show that fatherless children in America (1 in 4 children) are at a greater risk for a number of issues such as poverty, behavioral problems, involvement in crime, use of drugs and alcohol, and much more. On the other hand, statistics involving children with active fathers shows that they are much less likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems, face neglect or abuse, commit criminal acts, commit suicide, and more.
While this bill still requires a father to step up and claim responsibility for their child, and will not be a “quick fix” for the issue of fatherlessness in Florida, the hope is that many more fathers will be moved to establish paternity now that the stress of having to endure court has been removed.
HB 1301 And HB 775 Are Wins For Fathers In Florida!
Family courts have a history of bias against men and fathers. While these two new bills may not completely erase decades of unethical treatment, they are a step in the right direction when it comes to leveling the playing field between mothers and fathers. Data doesn’t lie, and the data consistently proves that a child who has both parents active and involved in their life grows up happier, healthier, and more successful.
At the Men’s Divorce Law Firm, we’ve been fighting for the rights of men and fathers for over 18 years. For more information regarding either HB 1301 or HB 775 and how these new laws may impact your current situation, call today to request a consultation!