Can a Judge Require a Parent to Wear a Mask in Order to Exercise Timesharing Under a Florida Parenting Plan? (Hint: Potentially Yes.)

For better or worse – and it’s often “worse” – COVID-19 has impacted nearly every part of our lives. The pandemic has damaged many marriages and created an uptick in the number of spouses seeking divorce in Florida. The virus’s impacts can also be felt when it comes to timesharing and parental responsibility in Florida. As some cases are starting to demonstrate, a parent’s failure to keep their child (or children) sufficiently safe by following governmental guidelines may be enough to cost them time with the children. This is, of course, a new and emerging area of the law so, whether you need to seek a timesharing change or to oppose one, be sure you are armed with legal representation from a skilled South Florida family law attorney.

Losing timesharing… over mask usage? Wondering how that could happen? A report from the Sun-Sentinel offers some insights. The case, litigated in Broward County, involved a Florida father, a mother who had moved from Coral Springs to North Carolina and a child with asthma. The child’s asthma placed him in the elevated risk group regarding COVID-19.

In June 2020, according to the report, the mother posted a “selfie” from the waiting room of her doctor’s office. The mother captioned the picture “no mask for this girl.” That action, which probably seemed relatively insignificant at the time, eventually came back to haunt in her Florida timesharing case.

The judge hearing the case criticized the mother, calling her “one of those anti-mask people.” The judge also disparagingly noted that the mother had “the audacity to post that on social media.” The judge went on to declare that the mother was “going to wear a mask” or else “timesharing is not going to happen,” according to the Sun-Sentinel.

The first reaction you probably have reading that is… can the judge really do that? The answer is… potentially yes. Florida law has some fairly clear standards for changing an existing parenting plan, but a scenario like this could possibly clear all of those hurdles.

First off, in order to get a judge to modify an existing parenting plan, you need to show that there’s been a change in circumstances. To obtain a modification, you need proof that this change of circumstances was substantial in nature and was something that you, as parents, did not anticipate at the time the parenting plan was originally created. You also need proof that the modification would be in the best interest of the child.

As a general matter, a parent who has begun engaging in conduct that places the child at an unreasonable risk of harm definitely could be an example of a substantial change that would allow the judge to revisit – and possible revise – elements of a parenting plan, including timesharing.

The act (or acts) of endangering the child’s health and well-being could also be the basis for reducing or eliminating a parent’s timesharing. Alternately, the judge could keep the amount of timesharing unchanged, but change the requirements regarding how that timesharing would occur – such as requiring all timesharing to be supervised.

One of the key things to take away from this case is that the COVID-19 pandemic, like anything with wide-ranging impacts, has the potential to affect your parenting situation, whether that impact is on parental responsibility, timesharing or both. Be prepared to protect your child’s well-being, as well as your relationship with your child, by obtaining the right legal representation. Rely upon the experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A., who have been helping Florida families for many years and are ready to get to work for you. Count on us for the useful advice and powerful advocacy your case needs. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation today.