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Florida Court Tosses Timesharing Plan Due to Absence of ‘Best Interests of the Child’ Finding

Wooden hourglassSometimes, winning or losing a family law case depends not on what the trial court order says but on what it doesn’t. A South Florida mother received a renewed opportunity to litigate the issue of timesharing after she succeeded in her recent appeal. The Fourth District Court of Appeal threw out the trial court’s timesharing plan because the order did not state that the timesharing arrangement was in the best interests of the child, and such an express finding is required by the law.

The appeal arose from the divorce case of C.M. (wife) and F.L. (husband). The final judgment in the couple’s divorce case set up a parenting plan that established a 50-50 timesharing split between the two parents. This timesharing schedule was part of the basis of the wife’s appeal.

The appeals court sided with the wife. Currently, under Florida law, the sole guiding standard for the establishment of a timesharing schedule is the “best interests of the child.” Some proposals, such as the most recent alimony reform bill that passed both houses of the Florida Legislature in its last session, would create a legal presumption setting up equal timesharing (like what the trial court imposed in this case) as the default option for timesharing cases. None of these reforms have become law, with Governor Scott vetoing the most recent bill in April.

The problem with the trial court’s order setting up equal timesharing in this situation wasn’t what was in the order, but what wasn’t. Not only must a timesharing schedule serve the best interests of the child, but also the trial judge must explicitly make a finding that the timesharing schedule ordered is in the best interests of the child. The trial judge in this case didn’t make such an express finding. The spouses disputed, in their arguments before the appeals court, whether they mutually arrived at a parenting agreement that called for a 50-50 timesharing split. However, whether or not the spouses both agreed to that parenting plan was not decisive of the issue. Even when parents both agree on timesharing, the trial court must approve the plan, and that approval must be contingent upon the arrangement meeting the best interests of the child.

Since the order in this couple’s case lacked the correct finding, the appeals court sent the case back to the trial court in Palm Beach County. At that point, the trial court would be required either to issue an order finding equal timesharing to be in the best interests of the child, or to create some other timesharing schedule that the judge believed met the child’s best interests.

This case is instructive to parents going through the legal process. In this case, even though the wife may have agreed to a 50-50 timesharing arrangement in a parenting plan, and the trial judge ordered a 50-50 timesharing arrangement, she still was able to win on appeal and get the trial court order reversed because of the way the trial court order was worded. At all levels of the process, competent legal counsel can help you discover and assess all of the legal options available to you, including ones that you may not have known you had. The diligent South Florida child custody attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have many years of experience helping parents and divorcing spouses navigate the process and protect their legal rights. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Governor’s Veto Kills Florida Alimony Reform Bill, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 18, 2016

Florida Parenting Plan Disputes and Helping Parents Get a Chance to be Heard in Court, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 18, 2015

Photo credit: S Sepp at Wikimedia Commons.