© 2009 Arlene C. Richman, Esq.
for Shared Parental Responsibility
by Arlene C. Richman, Esq.
Parents are often confused about what "rights" each parent has to information and participation in all aspects of their child's life. Some parents mistakenly believe that if a child spends the majority of time in one parent's household that parent has more "rights" to make decisions and obtain information than the other. This is comparable to the premise that if one person watching television has the remote in their hand, that person alone has the "right" to choose what everyone watches.
Florida statutes state: "It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibiblites, and joys, of childrearing." 
The Florida statutes specifically provide that "the parental responsibility for a minor child be shared by both parents unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child."  Examples of when parental responsibility may be detrimental include when a parent is convicted of a misdemeanor involving domestic violence, or there is evidence of domestic violence or child abuse. 
But what does that mean in terms of access to the child? Florida statutes provides that it means both parties will have "[a]ccess to records and information pertaining to a minor child, including, but not limited to, medical, dental, and school records, may not be denied to either parent. . . . . A parent having rights under this subparagraph has the same rights upon request as to form, substance, and manner of access as are available to the other parent of a child, including, without limitation, the right to in-person communication with medical, dental, and education providers." 
However, when it comes to which parent makes decisions concerning education, health care, or other responsibilities that the court finds unique to a particular family, the statutes give the court the responsibility for making that determination.  "In ordering shared parental responsibility, the court may consider the expressed desires of the parents and may grant to one party the ultimate responsibility over specific aspects of the child's welfare or may divide those responsibilities between the parties based on the best interests of the child. Areas of responsibility may include education, health care, and any other responsibilities that the court finds unique to a particular family." 
It is in the area of parental responsibility that collaborative law presents the best alternative to traditional litigation. As part of a collaborative participation agreement, signed by both parties, both parties essentially agree to work together for the best interests of their child. Both parties, and their attorneys, discuss all issues involving their child and together determine how decisions will be made regarding education, health care, religion, and activities. They can decide in advance how to treat urgent situations and how and when to inform the other parent (usually at the earliest opportunity.) Additionally, if a child has a special need, such as a physical or mental disability, or the opposite, extraordinary physical and mental abilities, they can jointly contact a physician or educator as part of the negotiation process, to arrive at a decision.
The parents make the decision, working with their attorneys and with the help of any other professionals in as non-confrontational and rational manner as possible, rather than having a decision imposed by a judge or as part of a quickly crafted last minute settlement in order to avoid a trial.
 §61.13 3(c)1, Fla. Stat.(2009) RETURN TO TEXT
 §61.13 (2)(c)2 Fla. Stat. (2009) RETURN TO TEXT
 See Id. RETURN TO TEXT
 §61.13 (2)(c)3 Fla. Stat. (2009) RETURN TO TEXT
 See §61.13 (2)(c)2(a) Fla. Stat. (2009) RETURN TO TEXT
 Id. RETURN TO TEXT
Arlene Richman is an attorney practicing collaborative law and family law in South Florida (including Broward County, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood) since 1987. She is a certified family law mediator, and founding member and current director of Collaborative Lawyers, Inc., a state-wide educational and professional development association and business directory of independent Florida licensed attorneys at law and family law firms who practice in the areas of collaborative divorce and collaborative family law.
Information on this website should not be taken as legal advice. Laws change, situations differ, and there may be exceptions to general rules. Except as otherwise may be provided, this website and contents are © 2009 Collaborative Lawyers, Inc. Collaborative Lawyers, Inc., is a state-wide educational and professional development association and business directory of independent Florida licensed attorneys at law and law firms who practice in the areas of collaborative divorce and collaborative family law. It is not a law firm or attorney referral organization.
Collaborative Lawyers Southeast Florida attorneys serve South Florida, including Dade County, Broward County, and Palm Beach County, and the cities of Miami, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach, Deerfield Beach, Delray Beach, Lauderhill, Lauderdale Lakes, Coral Springs, Weston, Parkland, Tamarac, Plantation, Sunrise, Miami Lakes, Miami Shores.