Best Interest of the Child Standard

When parents have contradictory views about what a child’s or children’s best interest are, cases involving the dissolution of marriage can get tense and conflicting pretty quickly. In Florida legal statutes there is an entire section devoted to helping explain how the best interest(s) of the child standard (BIOTC) is determined in different cases. In the Florida Statute title VI, chapter 61, section 61.13 the numerous factors involved in determining the support of children, time-sharing, and parenting in a dissolution of marriage are described in length. All emphasize that the decision is always in the child’s best interest.

  1. For child support to terminate on a child’s 18th birthday unless the court finds or previously found that s.743.07(2) applies, or is otherwise agreed to by the parties;
  2. A schedule, based on the record existing at the time of the order, stating the amount of the monthly child support obligation for all the minor children at the time of the order and the amount of child support that will be owed for any remaining children after one or more of the children are no longer entitled to receive child support; and
  3. The month, day, and year that the reduction or termination of child support becomes effective.” (Fla. Stat. §61.13). This part helps express the terms of the child support between the parties involved in order to help avoid confusion about what is expected. Following this piece in the statute comes what the court has jurisdiction over when it comes to the agreements created between the parties for child support.

Best Interest of the Child Standard – Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction is a common topic discussed when it comes to the authority of the court over a case. The courts and legal systems must always follow what is in the best interest of the child. With that ability if anything needs to be modified in the dissolution of marriage that pertains to a child or children, then the court has the power to do so. According to Florida Statute §61.13, “2. The court initially entering an order requiring one or both parents to make child support payments has continuing jurisdiction after the entry of the initial order. It can modify the amount and terms and conditions of the child support payments if the modification is found by the court to be in the best interests of the child” (Fla. Stat. §61.13). This basically states the circumstances that allows a court to change anything related to child support, parenting, time-sharing, etc. unless the child is no longer a minor or under the guardianship of the parties originally involved.

Health Care

Under Florida Statute §61.13, the terms of health care are also included. The statute specifies that “2.a. A support order enforced under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act which requires that the obligor provide health insurance is enforceable by the department …3. In a non-Title IV-D case, upon receipt of the order pursuant to subparagraph 1., or upon application of the obligor pursuant to the order, the union or employer shall enroll the minor child as a beneficiary in the group health plan regardless of any restrictions on the enrollment period and withhold any required premium from the obligor’s income. If more than one plan is offered by the union or employer, the child shall be enrolled in the group health plan in which the obligor is enrolled.” (Fla. Stat. §61.13). The child’s best interests in terms of health care and insurance are covered under this section in order to help determine what is more beneficial to the child. However, there are many pieces and stipulations when it involves health care that are further explained under the Statute.

Best Interest of the Child Standard – Parental Responsibility

Another large area of importance under this Statute is parental responsibility. It describes the factors used for the purposes of creating or altering a parenting plan. The best interests of the child are determined by taking into consideration: “(a) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.

(b) The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.

(c) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.

(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.

(e) The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.

(f) The moral fitness of the parents.

(g) The mental and physical health of the parents.

(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.

(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.

Additional Parental Responsibility Factors

(j) The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite thing

(k) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.

(l) The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child.

(m) Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child.

(n) Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

(o) The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.

(p) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.

(q) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.

(r) The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.

What is Best Suitable for the Child

(s) The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.

(t) Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.” (Fla. Stat. §61.13). All of these factors play a large role influencing a court’s determination of what is best suitable for the child. The BIOTC standard always applies.

Best Interest of the Child Standard Case Studies

An example case involving this statute is Mahoney v. Mahoney, No. 1D17-2071, 2018 WL 3351278, at *1 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. July 9, 2018). In this case, the trial court erred in their final judgement of child support from the former husband, along with miscalculating various aspects that concerned the husband’s life insurance, military retirement plan, attorney fees, and tangible personal property.

The trial court made the mistake of not taking into consideration certain pieces of evidence that pertained to the cost of insurance in order to secure his ordered child support and alimony. Florida Statute §61.13, allowed the court to require the husband bought or maintained life insurance in order to secure the alimony and child support he had to pay, but abused their jurisdiction in the way they did not inform him of the specifics.

The Case of Smith v. Daniel 

The case of Smith v. Daniel, No. 1D17-4240, 2018 WL 2472584 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. June 4, 2018) deals with the statute in a slightly different way. It places more emphasis on the best interest of the child, due to the fact that parental responsibility and supervised parenting time were granted without substantial evidence. The former wife issued a domestic violence protection order against the former husband. It is unclear whether the court considered this in the determination of what is in the child’s best interest. Therefore, this part of the case was reversed and remanded in order to determine what factors were in the best interest of the child.

 

All of the terms and conditions stated within Florida Statute §61.13 only help contribute to what situation is least harmful and most positive to a child or children involved in a dissolution of marriage. Described above are only some sections from the statute that are some of the most important factors and considerations involving a child’s best interests. The BIOTC standard is an extremely important and influential understanding that is used to determine many cases involving children in the dissolution of a marriage.

 

References:

http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0000-0099/0061/Sections/0061.13.html

Mahoney v. Mahoney, No. 1D17-2071, 2018 WL 3351278, at *1 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. July 9, 2018)

Smith v. Daniel, No. 1D17-4240, 2018 WL 2472584 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. June 4, 2018)