Divorce proceedings are hard enough but when child custody is an issue, they can get downright nasty. Online research is helpful but these are extremely complicated matters. This is why you should always ask your Kissimmee divorce attorney about certain specifics, especially since the law can vary subtly (or even greatly) from state to state and family law attorneys are familiar with how judges (or even a specific judge) tends to rule in these matters when the law isn't absolute. Here are five questions you should ask a Kissimmee Family Law Attorney in a Child Custody Case.
1. How Much Experience Do You Have?
This is the very first question you should ask. If the answer isn't acceptable, there's no reason to continue the interview. You'll want to know how many cases like yours the attorney has handled. Don't be surprised if they haven't handled one exactly like yours — every single case is slightly different. But the attorney should, at least, have experience with the types of issues likely to come up in your case.
2. Do I Have to Go to Court?
Some states, such as Florida, require spouses to go through mediation before a court will step in, with very few exceptions. This is actually a good thing. You might be surprised how much you and your spouse can agree upon once the mediator is there to ensure you hear each other. Additionally, you can mutually agree to things in a mediated agreement that the court would be unlikely to order, so long as it's legal and won't harm the children (such as a custom visitation agreement based on very specific details of each of your schedules).
But keep in mind that a mediation settlement, or any settlement agreement, is legally binding. As such, we recommend each party have his or her own attorney present (even if the mediator is an attorney) during the mediation, especially if things are contentious. At the conclusion of the mediation, you can always refuse to agree to any terms, in which case you'll head to court.
3. What's the Difference Between Sole and Joint Custody?
While your lawyer is certainly not psychic, depending on the details of your case and how complicated it is, he or she may also be able to give you an idea of what the likely scenario or scenarios may be.
In general, the court no longer uses the term “custody” when referring to the time each parent will spend with the children. The parent with “majority time sharing” has more overnights with the minor child (or children) in one year than the other parent – even if it is only one more night. Usually, the address which will be used to determine school zoning for the minor child is the home of the parent with majority time sharing. Regardless of how many overnights each parent has with the child, the court is most likely to award the parents with “shared parental responsibility,” which is another way of saying that both parents are required to discuss and equally make decisions about the minor child’s education, religious upbringing, medical care, etc. There must be a very good reason why it is in the child’s best interest for only one parent to make all the decisions on behalf of the minor child. This is done by showing, for example, that the parents sharing the decision making will be harmful to the child.
Many people believe that if the parents spend roughly the same number of overnights with the child each year, no child support will be paid. This is not always true since child support also is based upon things such as both parents’ incomes; whether a parent provides health or dental insurance coverage for the child and, if so, the cost each month; the cost of each parent’s own health and dental insurance; and whether a parent pays the cost of the child’s daycare each month and, if so, the amount of that expense.
Under other circumstances, which are far less common, the Court may award a parent time with a minor child which is supervised. This happens when the court decides that the child may be endangered if a parent were to spend time alone or unsupervised with the child. Because parents have a constitutional right to parent their kids, the Court requires very good evidence of danger to a child or a completely absent parent before the taking away a parent’s rights to raise his or her child.
4. How Does the Court Determine What Type of Custody to Award?
In most states, including Florida, the best interests of the child is the primary concern. How the decision is made depends on state law and case law, but the Court will look at a multitude of factors previously established, plus any special circumstances that exist in your case. These things include but are not limited to:
- The child's age and development level
- The lifestyle of the parents (as it relates to the child's best interests)
- In certain circumstances, when the child is older and more mature, the preferences of the child
- The child's bond with each parent or siblings
5. Can the Order or Agreement Be Changed?
Yes, but in order to make a change, you must be able to prove a substantial change in circumstances since the last Order was entered, and the change was not foreseeable when the last Order was entered. Operating outside the Final Judgment or Court Order, even by mutual agreement, is a bad idea. The court order must be officially changed through the judicial system to be valid. Even if you make an agreement outside the existing order, the other spouse can later change his or her mind and use your actions as an opportunity to take you back to court.
How Do I Find a Kissimmee Family Law Attorney?
If you need an experienced Kissimmee divorce and child custody attorney, call Draper Law Offices at 866.767.4711 for a free, no-obligation consultation.