Florida Appeals Court Stays Trial Court Order, Restoring Custody to Mother Who Works with COVID-19 Patients

Every parent feels a natural urge to protect their young children. That is especially true during times of enhanced danger, such as the current pandemic. This has led to a recent spate of court cases where one parent is a medical professional or first responder with enhanced risks of contact with the novel coronavirus, and the other parent is someone who thinks it best that the child not have contact with the health care provider or first responder until the current state of emergency passes. To preserve their relationship with their child, a parent who is a health care provider or first responder should consult a South Florida child custody attorney who can provide them with tenacious advocacy. Our law firm recently won an important victory in a case of this type.

We represented Dr. Theresa Greene, a South Florida woman who found her timesharing cut off by a judge in Miami-Dade County. Dr. Greene is an emergency room physician who, along with her ex-husband, shared a 50-50 timesharing split of their four-year-old daughter. According to NBC 6, she underwent a COVID-19 test last week, and the test result came back negative. Dr. Greene also wears proper protective equipment when working with patients. Nevertheless, the father desired to cut off the daughter’s visits with Dr. Greene while the pandemic continued.

The father went to court and obtained an emergency order temporarily suspending all visits between Dr. Greene and the daughter. The judge’s order stated that a temporary cessation of visits between Dr. Greene and the daughter was necessary in “order to protect the best interests of the minor child, including but not limited to the minor child’s safety and welfare.” The order made it clear that the change was not the fault of Dr. Greene but was “solely related to the outbreak of COVID-19.” Dr. Greene decided to appeal this outcome, and we represented her in the appeal.

On Tuesday, we secured a stay of the order from the Miami Third District Court of Appeals. This means that Dr. Greene can continue sharing custody of her daughter while her dispute with her ex-spouse continues. The order will take effect immediately. It should reassure parents in the health care profession that they do not need to choose between their children and their patients.

A similar case in Orlando

A judge in Orange County faced a similar case, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel. In that case, the child was a 21-month-old boy. The father was a firefighter/EMT with Osceola County Fire Rescue and the mother was a parent concerned that the father’s enhanced degree of exposure risk placed the child at an elevated chance of contracting the virus.

Like Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, the courts in Orange and Osceola Counties have forbidden parents there from “unreasonably” restricting the other parent’s access to the child. The Orlando-area mother, like the father in Miami, refrained from taking unilateral action and instead asked for a court order temporarily ending all timesharing until the pandemic ended.

So far, the Orange County mom has been unsuccessful in her case. The judge in that Orange County case concluded that there was zero evidence that the father “was failing to take proper safety precautions or otherwise acting in a way that would endanger” the son. In further support of that conclusion, the judge pointed out that Osceola County Fire Rescue “employs extensive policies and procedures to avoid exposure to COVID-19,” according to the Sentinel report.

The judge in Orange County also stated in the ruling that there was a lack of “evidence indicating the continuation of timesharing would subject the minor child to any risk of harm specific to the actions of behavior of the Father.” In denying the mother’s request, the judge also pointed out that all of the mother’s evidence “would be generally applicable to any number of individuals engaged in essential occupations necessitating interaction with the public.”

In any case involving timesharing, the case will focus very heavily on factual issues. Success will likely go to whichever party has the more persuasive factual arguments and stronger evidence. To make sure you have powerful evidence and those winning factual arguments, retain the skilled team at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our experienced South Florida family law attorneys have been helping mothers, fathers, and others achieve positive outcomes in their timesharing disputes for many years and are here to help you. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.