Until just a few short decades ago, grandparents had no legal right to visit with their grandchildren. Today, many states have laws governing grandparents’ rights to visitation. While Florida law contains several strong protections with regard to the right of a parent (or parents) to raise their children as they deem best, even these strong protections do not give a parent a right to evade a valid out-of-state court’s order awarding visitation time to grandparents. Specifically, the 5th District Court of Appeal ruled in a recent Central Florida case that Florida’s right to privacy and policy of parental autonomy did not nullify a valid order of grandparent visitation from a Colorado court.
The case involved the minor children of Ruth Ledoux-Nottingham. The mother and father divorced in Colorado in 2010. A year later, the father died and shortly after his death, the mother and children moved to Florida. Before the mother and children left Colorado, however, the children’s paternal grandparents, William and Jennifer Downs, filed a court petition requesting visitation.
The court in Colorado gave the grandparents three weeks’ visitation and reasonable telephone contact with the children. The mother filed an action in Orlando, asking a Florida court to throw out that visitation order, claiming that the order violated Florida’s constitution and state public policy. Her basis for this argument was the notion that a parent holds autonomy over child-rearing decisions as part of his or her right of privacy guaranteed in the Florida Constitution. The grandparents, on the other hand, argued that, under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution, the trial court should order that both sides abide by the Colorado court’s visitation order.
Both the trial court and the appeals court sided with the grandparents. The appeals court pointed to several previous decisions, including a similar 1999 case, Bellow v. Bellow, which concluded that the federal constitutional provision of Full Faith and Credit trumped Florida’s public policy of parental autonomy. As the Bellow court stated, an out-of-state order “is not rendered unenforceable because it may violate a public policy” of Florida.
The ruling declared that the public policy of Florida has no impact on whether or not a Florida court must recognize an out-of-state order. If the order was a final judgment and came about as a result of what Section 61.503(4) of the Florida Statutes defined as a child custody proceeding, the Florida court had to enforce it. The Colorado ruling in the case of Ledoux-Nottingham’s children met these criteria, so the Florida court was obligated to order the parties to follow it.
While the 5th DCA has consistently ruled that the Full Faith and Credit Clause supersedes Florida public policy, the 4th DCA reached the opposite conclusion in a 1999 case, M.S. v. D.C., Jr.. This disagreement between the two appeals courts could lead the Florida Supreme Court to address the issue and resolve the conflict.
Hopefully, in any case regarding visitation with children, everyone wants what’s best for the children, but they may disagree on how to achieve that end. Sometimes, resolving this dilemma requires the aid of the legal system. For help with your visitation questions or dispute, talk to the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our hardworking lawyers can help you understand all of your options and arrive at a plan that works best for your family.
Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Mother and Child Reunion Put on Hold After Court Decides to Hear More Evidence Regarding Best Interest of Child, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 24, 2014
Appeals Court Clarifies Standard for Parental Abandonment Finding, Revives Grandparents’ Adoption Petition, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 3, 2014
Photo credit: Viridiano Barrios at Wikimedia Commons.