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‘How Bow Dah?’: What a Custody Battle over a Teenage Internet Sensation Teaches All Parents in Florida

vintage TVIt started as a typical daytime TV installment of “exasperated single parent and out-of-control teen” on a September 2016 episode of the “Dr. Phil” show. Then, with one heavily accented taunt, a South Florida teen launched countless internet memes and became a social media star. Now, the girl’s father, who has been estranged from the daughter for most of her life, is fighting for custody, according to the Palm Beach Post. The legal contest regarding the ‘viral’ sensation teen and the past history of the parents’ circumstances can be very instructive for any parent who’s dealing with child custody, timesharing, and child support issues.

The teen’s parents were never married. In 2004, the parents worked out a mutual agreement on custody, which a Palm Beach County trial court entered an order memorializing. The order named the mother as the primary residential parent and gave the mother sole parental decision-making authority. The order also said that the father would receive “open and liberal” visitation with the child, according to the Post report. The father’s child support was set at $1,000 per month and eventually increased to $1,100 per month.

The father told the Post that he regularly paid the support obligation. By contrast, he also indicated to the newspaper that visitation had been sporadic and difficult to complete. When the child was five years old, the father asked the court to hold the mother in contempt for failing to allow him to have visitation. A magistrate suggested the family try the “Family Connection” program, but the visitation still didn’t happen, the Post reported.

In the father’s recent petition to modify custody, he asserted that the mother “is using the minor child to make money and is exploiting the minor child through others.” The petition also alleged that the daughter had begun behaving in unhealthy ways, including:  “Stealing cars. Twerking in her underwear outdoors. Stealing her mother’s credit cards to buy things such as a stripper pole.”

There are a couple of key lessons that can be taken away from this. One relates to what it takes to obtain an order modifying custody. The father’s petition did plead that a “substantial, material, involuntary, unanticipated and permanent change in circumstances” had taken place, which is what Florida law requires before a court can even consider making a modification. The Florida Supreme Court also says that the change must be substantial and material and that the change “must be one that was not reasonably contemplated at the time of the original” order. While the daughter’s public twerking, car stealing, and credit card thievery probably weren’t reasonably contemplated when the child was a baby, the mother may still oppose the petition on the basis that the father’s claims don’t lay out the required change demanded by the law to allow a judge even to consider a modification.

The second relates to child support. Based upon the Post reports, it does appear the father handled his child support obligation properly, despite problems with visitation. The Post reports appear to show a history of alleged denial of visitation with the father by the mother. Despite this, the reports make no mention of non-payment of child support. Sometimes, the obligor parent may decide to use the payment of child support as “leverage” with a primary custodial parent when he’s not receiving his proper visitation. This is basically never the right move. Even if your ex is denying you visitation that the judge ordered you to receive, withholding child support will only leave you potentially facing contempt charges of your own, as well as penalties up to and including jail time.

Child custody cases can be complicated things, both personally and legally. The determined and thoughtful South Florida child custody attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have been helping families work through conflicts and the legal system for many years. To find out how we can help you, contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Prosecutors Drop Charges Against South Florida Anti-Circumcision Mom, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 23, 2017

Giving Florida Mom ‘Ultimate’ Decision-Making Authority Violated the Rule in Favor of Shared Parental Responsibility, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 28, 2016