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Mummies (or daddies)? Who has a leg up in Florida family law?

On Behalf of | Oct 29, 2021 | Alimony, Child Custody, Child Support, divorce, Family Law, Visitation and time-sharing |

Are you a Floridian haunted by potential outcomes in your divorce if arrangements in the decree are in accord with historical family roles based on gender? Some of those frightful stereotypes include:

  • Mothers should have custody because they are better at nurturing and providing daily care of children, especially infants and very young kids.
  • Fathers should only get visitation on weekends and holidays, leaving most of the parenting time to moms.
  • Men are the main breadwinners so they should pay alimony and child support.
  • It is fair for husbands to pay their spouse’s legal fees in divorce because men make more money.

We now know that these assumptions are so much hocus pocus. But divorce decrees often looked like this potentially scary HuffPost description, “Mom got the house and kids; dad got the business, paid support and spent Saturdays at Disneyland” (or Disney World for Florida fathers).

Times have changed in important ways

These kinds of traditional beliefs no longer hold up to scrutiny (and the law may not treat people differently because of their genders). Recent federal data shows that about one-third of wives make more than their working husbands, reports the New York Post. CNBC cites the Pew Research Center for the statistic that 17% of stay-at-home parents were fathers in 2016.

States are beginning to change. U.S. Census data for 2018 found about one-fifth of custodial parents were fathers.

The legislature has modernized Florida family laws

Thankfully, while historically divorce and other family laws in Florida (and nationally) reflected age-old societal norms for spouses and parents based on their genders, our state laws and courts have made progress. The main family-related statutes now use the neutral terms “party” or “parent” so as not to prefer one gender over another when a court establishes important rights, interests and responsibilities.

For example, in 1971, the legislature removed sex discrimination in this context by making both recovery of attorney’s fees in divorce proceedings and awarding of alimony (as well as the order to pay it) available to either spouse. In deciding alimony, the judge may today consider the adultery of either party, whereas the law used to say only the wife’s adultery was relevant.

The tender years doctrine that allowed a court to prefer mothers as custodians of young children was abolished in Florida. The custody and child support statute now says that “there is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule …” Instead, the decision is based on the best interests of the child after weighing relevant factors. In addition, the court may order either parent to pay child support to the other.

And of course, now that same-sex marriages are legal and equal to traditional ones, the elimination of sex-based stereotypes in Florida family laws through gender-neutral language – and of illegal sex-based discrimination in matters of parenting and support – has taken on new significance. Or as Time puts it, “the degendering of alimony and divorce … is a natural outgrowth of the degendering of roles in marriage.”

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The Law Office of Forrest & Forrest, PLLC represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.

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