In a recent child custody and timesharing case, the mother, who had lost in the trial court, lost again on appeal. The First District Court of Appeal did not conclude that the mother was blatantly or egregiously wrong in her arguments; instead, the appeals court simply concluded that the mother did not prove that the trial judge abused his discretion, so the appeals court had no basis for reversing the lower court’s ruling. The outcome in this matter highlights an important truth about any Florida family law matter, which is the difficulty appellants often face in winning on appeal and, as a related element, the importance of making your strongest possible presentation in the trial court.
The spouses, Kemberly and Mark, were a Union County couple who were in a situation that faces many married couples: they were divorcing. What’s more, they were going through divorce not just as spouses but as parents of a six-year-old daughter. Also like many couples, the parents couldn’t agree on the issue of custody and timesharing, so they litigated that matter before a judge.
At the custody trial, the wife presented evidence that she was the one who had served as the daughter’s primary caregiver during the couple’s separation, which had gone on for a considerable length of time. The mother allegedly was also the parent who always took the child to school during the marriage. Based upon these and other factors, the mother argued that she should receive a majority of the time in any custody and timesharing order.
The trial judge disagreed, though, and instead ordered that the parents share custody and that each parent receive 50% timesharing. The mother appealed that ruling, arguing that, based upon all of the proof she presented to the trial judge, it was improper not to enter a timesharing order that awarded her the majority of time with the child. The appeals court upheld the trial judge’s ruling.
The appeals court, in its opinion, explained why the mother lost, writing that “the law gives judges making these decisions broad discretion.” Both the mother and the father “presented legitimate points and arguments.” Even though a different trial judge, “facing the same legitimate points and arguments,” might have reached a different outcome more favorable to the mother, that didn’t mean she was entitled to a reversal on appeal.
In some ways, this case might seem unremarkable. Divorcing parents litigate custody. Judges enter orders. Losing parents are often unsatisfied and appeal. Losing parents often lose appellate cases because their trial judge didn’t do anything improper. It happens all the time. However, this case is remarkable in the important lesson of which the appeals court reminds us. The appeals court never said that the mother was wrong in her argument about deserving to receive more than 50% timesharing. The appeals court expressly commented that perhaps another judge would have made a very different ruling (that presumably would have been more to the mother’s liking). An appeals court’s job is not to decide which litigant was right and which one was wrong. Appeals courts are required only to decide whether a trial judge committed an error sufficiently substantial to qualify as an abuse of discretion. Short of that, the trial judge’s ruling stands.
That’s why it is so important to make sure that you put your “best foot forward” from the very beginning of your case. You’ll probably only get one chance to litigate your issues. Make sure your case is as strong as it can be from the start. The diligent South Florida child custody attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have many years’ experience of doing just that: making sure that, whatever your family law issue, your case is the strongest it can be. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
‘How Bow Dah?’: What a Custody Battle over a Teenage Internet Sensation Teaches All Parents in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 19, 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