Shared Parental Responsibility and Sole Parental Responsibility

Mother with two children on bench. Shared parental responsibility or sole parental responsibility.

Parents who “share parental responsibilityretain full parental rights and responsibilities for their child. This means both parents confer with each other to make decisions for their child. See Section 61.046(17), Florida Statutes.

In sharing responsibility for decisions, parents generally must communicate with each other. They must try to agree about important decisions. Most parents would do that while together. But when they don’t or can’t agree, options for resolving disagreements include collaborative law practice, mediation, litigation, and other means.

Shared Parenting Unless Detrimental

The court must order shared parental responsibility unless the court finds it would be detrimental to the child. See Section 61.13(2)(c), Florida Statutes.  If the court determines shared parental responsibility would be detrimental, it may order sole parental responsibility.

Under “sole parental responsibility,” one parent decides for the child. – Section 61.046(18), Florida Statutes.

Regarding shared parental responsibility or sole parental responsibility, courts may consider the parents’ desires and grant to one parent ultimate responsibility over specific aspects of the child’s welfare. Alternatively, the court may divide those responsibilities between the parents based on the child’s best interests.

Such areas of parental responsibility may include education, health care, and “any other responsibilities that the court finds unique to a particular family.”  See Section 61.13(2)(c)2.a., Florida Statutes.  A subset of “health care” is mental health treatment for a child.

Courts must safeguard a child’s best interest. So judges can’t order blanket ultimate decision-making authority over “all” issues if parents sharing parental responsibility disagree. See McClure v. Beck, 212 So. 3d 396 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017); Seligsohn v. Seligsohn, 259 So. 3d 874 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018); De La Fe v. De La Fe, 332 So. 3d 60 (Fla. 2d DCA 2021).  Instead, to direct ultimate decision-making authority, courts must specify concrete aspects over which a parent will have ultimate decision-making.  See also Clarke v. Stofft, 263 So. 3d 84 (Fla. 4th DCA 2019).

General Award of Ultimate Say-So Improper

Nothing stops a judge from giving a parent final say-so over specific areas if evidence justifies “ultimate responsibility.” See Moses v. Moses, 347 So. 3d 385 (Fla. 5th DCA 2021). But in Moses, the judge went too far awarding mom ultimate decision-making authority over 18 separate areas. Those areas included education, healthcare, and moral and religious decisions. Dad was an active-duty service member forced to retire because of mental and physical ailments.

He received an honorable discharge from the military. The Veterans Administration rated him totally disabled. He had a history of alcohol problems. Yet a social investigator and psychological evaluator found no significant concerns about his safely parenting the children. Evidence showed mom uncooperative and uncommunicative with dad about the kids. Absent evidence justifying the trial judge’s broad grant to mom of ultimate say-so, the appellate court reversed and sent the case back to the judge.

But how do these principles apply to decisions about a child’s mental health treatment? In the next section, read more about shared parenting and retained consent to mental health treatment.

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