Florida law governs the aspects of child custody, including legal rights, living arrangements and child support parameters. 

But the laws can be confusing for parents going through a divorce. An overview of the possible ways Florida courts award custody may help parents who are not yet familiar with the basics. 

Physical or legal custody? 

Physical custody refers to the child’s living situation. A judge can appoint joint physical custody, though this usually only happens when parents live close to each other. Most of the time, the child’s permanent residence is with one parent and the other has visitation rights. 

When a judge grants a parent legal custody, that parent has the right to make decisions about health, education, and general childrearing. Florida courts usually grant both parents joint legal custody, except in cases where the judge believes one parent is unfit to make decisions. 

Sole or joint custody? 

In cases where one parent is unfit, the judge grants full physical and legal custody to the other. Financial instability and substance abuse are common reasons why a judge might grant one parent sole custody. 

When parents have joint custody of their child, they must agree upon a parental schedule, considering work and school schedules and any other routine needs of the child. When parents live close to each other and have joint physical custody, the child may spend long periods of time with each parent equally. 

If parents live far apart, however, it is common for a child to spend the bulk of his or her time with the custodial parent, usually during the school year, visiting the other parent during holidays and vacations.