What guides decisions in the Florida family law courts?

It's nerve-wracking when the future custody of your children is in the hands of a judge. He or she doesn't know you and your family, so how can they possibly know what is best for your kids?

Divorcing parents should take some comfort from the premise that Florida family law judges do not arbitrarily make child custody rulings. Instead, the state's family law courts base their custody (and other) decisions on the following dozen guiding principles.

1. Children should live in safe and permanent homes.

Kids don't thrive in disruptive, abusive or chaotic environments. The court's goal here is to place them where they will have the most stability.

2. The needs and best interests of the children should be the primary consideration.

The needs and desires of both parents are secondary to what benefits the children most. It's not personal.

3. All children and adults should be treated with objectivity, sensitivity, dignity and respect.

The court's decisions should not be dehumanizing and harmful to those involved.

4. Cases involving interrelated family law issues should be consolidated or coordinated.

This maximizes the court's resources and reduces any inconveniences to family members. It also decreases the likelihood of conflicting court orders that unnecessarily complicate the legal process.

5. Therapeutic justice should be a key part of the family court process.

Families in crisis often have legal as well as other issues that foment dysfunction in their familial relationships. Administering therapeutic justice can empower families to develop conflict-resolution skills. They may also get referrals for appropriate services to effectively assess and address their needs.

6. When possible, parties should be empowered to address their own issues.

The court should consider what is most compatible with each family's financial circumstances, legal requirements and specific needs.

7. The court is responsible for managing cases with consideration of the family's needs, as well as the litigants and their issues.

Family court solutions are not one-size-fits-all, and family court judges must be willing to think outside the box to rectify matters of discord.

8. There should be a means of differentiating among cases.

Conserving judicial resources can mean diverting cases to personnel for quasi- and non-judicial resolution.

9. Trial courts must coordinate and maximize court resources.

By exploring any community resources and programs, courts can tap into valuable sources of assistance for litigants and their families.

10. The role of the court in family restructuring is to identify appropriate solutions and services.

The goal is to achieve stability over the long term and reduce the need for court intervention.

11. Court services should be accessible and available at reasonable cost.

Litigants should not be denied justice because of a lack of means.

12. Courts should be staffed with highly motivated, well-trained staff.

The goal of performance excellence for all personnel should be present in all their interactions with litigants.

Once you understand how the above 12 principles are implemented, you can better determine how to proceed with the legal processes of the Florida family law courts.

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