It is an enduring myth that Florida courts will prefer the mother over the father in a custody matter, regardless of whether the parents were ever married. Although there may be some perceived bias on the part of some judges who make these determinations, Florida law requires that judges cannot prefer one parent over another merely based on their gender. Instead, judges are required to make decisions based on who has the ultimate responsibility of the child – and with whom the child will reside and when – based on the best interests of the child, and should involve both parents in taking care of the child, unless it would be detrimental to the child to do so.

Below is a brief overview of the major aspects of a Florida custody case, and how a judge will make decisions on them. Keep in mind that parents are always free to work together to create a custody arrangement, and a judge will approve it so long as it appears to be in the best interest of the child.


In a custody order – whether reached through agreement or a judge’s determination – there will be two main issues addressed: 1) parental responsibility, and 2) time-sharing.

Parental responsibility deals with the question of which parent or parents will have the authority to make important decisions for the child, such as medical treatment, where the child will go to school, and so on. Other states often call this “legal custody.” Separate issues might be split between the parents, with one parent having “ultimate responsibility” over some issues, or they may be decided by both parents through “parallel parenting.”

Time sharing – often called “physical custody” in other states – involves the creation of a parenting plan, by which the court will order such matters as:

  • Where the child will stay during the week, e.g. specific days with each parent
  • The tasks required of each parent in raising the child
  • Modes of communication between the child and each parent
  • Specific aspects of the child’s schedule, such as schooling and lessons


Florida law specifically directs judges to seek to have both parents involved in making important decisions with the child and having time with the child (i.e. having the child reside with both parents on a time sharing plan), unless doing so would be detrimental to the needs of the child.

In making determinations of having both or only one parent take care of the child, and on what schedule and terms, the court will focus on the best interests of the child. Again, the court does not have a preference of the mother over the father based on gender, or vice versa, although that might have been the case in the past.

By working with a Florida family law attorney, you can clearly present the circumstances to the court which favor your preferred outcome on both parental responsibility and time sharing based on Florida law.


If you have any questions about the custody process in Florida, or you are seeking counsel in any other Florida family law matter, contact Florida family law attorney Ryan Mynard at +1-850-683-3940 today to get started.