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Florida Appeals Court Nixes Language Restrictions, Timesharing Supervisor Payment Obligations in Custody Order

Baker-ActA mother whose custody arrangement with her daughter unraveled after an involuntary psychological commitment in 2010 achieved a measure of success in a recent ruling from the 2d District Court of Appeal. While the appeals court upheld a trial court’s decision regarding primary residential custody of the child, the appeals court struck down mandates barring the mother from speaking her native Spanish to the child and forcing the mother to pay the entire bill for the timesharing supervisor who was required to attend all of the mother’s supervised visitations.

The case involved the daughter of D.F. (husband) and his then-wife, P.F.. The couple, who married in 2003, split up in 2006 shortly after the daughter’s birth. The marital settlement agreement included a timesharing schedule in which the girl resided with her mother four days per week, and with her father for three days. The agreement also named the mother as the primary residential custodian.

The mother was involuntarily committed in 2010 for psychological reasons. The father went to court seeking an emergency order to revoke the mother’s timesharing and to have himself named primary residential custodian. The court entered the order. About a week later, the mother was released and began fighting to overturn the emergency order. What ensued was a protracted battle regarding decision-making, timesharing, who was responsible for paying the timesharing supervisor, and other related issues. The trial court issued an order that kept the father as primary residential custodian and imposed many restrictions on the mother.

The mother appealed. The trial court’s choice of the father as the primary residential custodian survived on appeal. As for the rest of the order, the appeals court sided with the mother. Two decisions, one giving the father final authority on all decisions regarding the child and the other directing that the mother, who was Venezuelan and a native Spanish speaker, speak only English during her visits with the daughter, failed for the same reason. The court threw out these parts of the order because the father never asked for them, either in his filings with the trial court or in the oral argument during the hearing. Whether such an outcome is proper or not, Florida law generally disfavors judges awarding forms of relief to parents in custody modification cases that the parents never asked for.

With regard to the language issue, the appeals court pointed out that, to the extent that the mother might possibly be using the cloak of a foreign language to communicate inappropriate things to her daughter behind the father’s back, the proper “fix” for that would be utilizing a timesharing supervisor that is fluent in Spanish, not barring the mother from speaking her native language to the child.

Ordering the mother to assume sole financial responibility for the cost of the timesharing supervisor was erroneous because it improperly tied the mother’s ability to exercise timesharing with her daughter to the state of her financial affairs. Previous 2d DCA rulings consistently held that a “parent’s visitation rights may not be conditioned on the payment of the parent’s financial obligations.”

Lastly, the appeals court took issue with what wasn’t in the trial court’s opinion:  a pathway back for the mother. Before her commitment, the mother had custody of the girl four days per week. After the commitment, she was allowed only a few hours per month of supervised visitation. A trial court “must give the parent the key to reconnecting with his or her children.” An order that does not include specific, concrete steps to that reconnection lacks such a key and is improper.

Child custody cases in which one parent has or develops psychological problems can be particularly complicated. The knowledgeable and thoughtful South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have extensive experience dealing with many different families who have faced many different types of challenges. We are here to help you ensure that you have every proper opportunity to maintain your relationship with your child. Contact our diligent attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Obtaining Emergency Relief in Your Florida Timesharing Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 20, 2015

Miami Heat Guard Dwyane Wade’s Ex-Wife Must Travel to Florida for Visitation With Sons, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 7, 2012

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