Author: Leslie Ann Ferderigos, JD
It wasn’t long ago that Florida courts used the primary care-giver standard to determine who would be awarded custody of the children. I remember speaking to numerous friends growing up where fathers took a back seat to the mother on many issues because the father was viewed by society as holding less parental rights. Some fathers gave up and eventually walked out of a child’s life because the mother made it merely impossible to have a relationship with the child. Was this outcome the result of gender bias and words like “custody”, that ultimately lead to the power struggle between divorced parents?
If our government is built on the concepts of separation of powers to avoid man’s innate desire to abuse power, then why would family courts believe parents would be any different.
Presently, family law has made efforts to equalize the power between parents. Courts have abandoned the term custody, replacing it with parental responsibility and time-sharing. The primary caregiver standard has been replaced with the child’s best interest standard. The court now favors awarding shared parental responsibility which grants equal decision-making power on important decisions in a child’s life.
Have these changes been enough? The Law has evolved, but without societal awareness and judges holding parties accountable, it continues to be a struggle for many secondary residential parents who try to exercise their rights. Just last year, I spoke to a father with shared parental responsibility, who discovered his child was getting counseling and no effort was ever made to obtain his consent prior to starting the sessions. He also learned that same year that his child was withdrawn and transferred to another school without ever notifying him. When he spoke to a local attorney to find out how to prevent these types of unilateral decisions, he was told that even if the law is on his side there is judges discretion as to how this will be ruled on and most judges don’t want to waste time on issues that are not detrimental to the child.
Although the law has evolved to equalize power between parties, society needs to catch up and judges need to hold parties accountable.
AUTHOR: Leslie Ann Ferderigos, JD