Father’s rights and paternity issues are hotly contested in Florida as in other jurisdictions. More weight is placed, in some cases, on Florida’s statutory definitions of family than on DNA tests, making it critical to get the help of an experienced Florida attorney.
In a recent case, a mother had given birth to a child in 2004 while married. The child was not born out wedlock and lived with his mother’s parents from birth. The parental rights of the mother’s husband were never terminated and he had an obligation to support the child. The mother died when the child was four. Her mother (the child’s grandmother) filed a petition for temporary custody. The mother’s husband gave written consent. The trial court awarded her temporary custody.
Meanwhile, another man filed a petition for determination of paternity in the same court. He did not meet the definitions of “parent” under Florida’s statutes, but he claimed DNA testing showed him to be the biological father of the child.
Two years later, a trial court entered a judgment of paternity and declared the petitioner the father of the child, claiming the mother’s husband’s relationship with the child was severed. The judge ordered the grandmother to send the child to be with his biological father.
The grandmother complied and sent the child to Pennsylvania.
On appeal, however, the court reversed the paternity order, holding the child couldn’t be subject to a paternity proceeding because he was born into an intact marriage. The court reversed the lower court entirely, including its finding that the relationship between child and the mother’s husband was severed. Accordingly, the lower court dismissed the paternity case and readdressed the grandmother’s petition. It acknowledged the mother’s husband’s consent.
Later, in a motion to intervene, the petitioner admitted that he would not comply and give up the child when the grandmother came to get him. He didn’t think the transfer was in the child’s best interests, and argued the circuit court’s order was unconstitutional.
When the Florida court reinstated the grandmother’s custody, the petitioner filed a complaint in Pennsylvania asking for a custody determination. He kept the child in violation of the Florida court’s custody order.
The grandmother tried to enforce the Florida court’ order, objecting to the Pennsylvania court’s involvement under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The Pennsylvania trial court agreed with her, but an appellate court reversed it asking the trial court to communicate with the Florida trial court.
The petitioner filed a motion to intervene in the temporary custody case. However, he kept the child in Pennsylvania. A trial court found that he qualified to bring a motion to intervene as an “extended family member” because of his status as the child’s biological father. The trial court granted the motion to intervene and transferred the case to Pennsylvania, ruling it was a more convenient forum.
This issue was appealed. The appellate court ruled that the trial court erred in allowing the petitioner to intervene and failing to address the petitioner’s willful decision to keep the child in Pennsylvania against the Florida court’s order. The appellate court reasoned that the petitioner had ignored the custody order because he disagreed with it.
It also ruled that even if the petitioner had not flouted the Florida custody order, he did not qualify as an “extended family member.” Under Florida law, the petitioner had to be related to the child’s parents (either the mother or her husband), not the child, to count as extended family. The appellate court also ruled that the DNA test was legally insignificant.
As you can see, Florida family courts take legal procedure very seriously. If you are dealing with a paternity or other sensitive issue, it is important to make sure you retain an experienced family law attorney.
To schedule your confidential consultation, please do not hesitate to call the South Florida law office of Sandy T. Fox toll free at (800) 596-0579 or contact us through our website.
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Florida Child Custody Concerns on a Startling Rise, July31, 2013
Ric Flair and Florida Contempt of Court, July 17, 2013
Domestic Violence in Florida, June 20, 2013