Articles Posted in Custody/Time-Sharing

If you read or listen to enough material put out by doctors, you’ll inevitably hear many strong suggestions urging you see a particular type of doctor or undergo a particular test if your personal situation matches a certain set of facts. That’s not done just to “drum up” business. It’s done because doctors understand well the need for proper treatment of certain conditions and the risk when that issue isn’t addressed.

Family law and family law attorneys aren’t much different. There are certain people in certain situations out there who have a particularly high need for legal services, often because there’s a profoundly high risk that, if something goes wrong, it will go terribly wrong. An experienced South Florida family law attorney has the tools and resources to help you avoid that disaster scenario.

What do we mean by “terribly wrong”? Here’s an example, with a Tampa area woman who found herself in a heartbreaking situation because she hadn’t gotten the legal advice and legal services she needed when she needed them.

There are actually multiple different ways to defend successfully when you child’s other parent asks the court to modify timesharing. For one thing, you can demonstrate that the proposed change isn’t in the child’s best interest, but that can often be intensive in terms of time, money and stress. Another, and perhaps more efficient, way to stop a proposed change to timesharing is to persuade the judge that there has been no “substantial change” in circumstances since the court issued the original order on timesharing. If the other parent hasn’t sufficiently proven that a substantial change has occurred, then the law prevents the court from making any changes at all. Whatever path you choose in order to defeat a proposed change to timesharing, be sure you have an experienced South Florida family law attorney advocating for you.

When it comes to the issue of a substantial change in circumstances, the case of D.H. and A.H. is a useful one. The couple divorced and the court awarded the parents shared parental responsibility with the mother receiving majority timesharing. Then, six months later, they were back in court based on motions to modify timesharing. The judge, at that point, decided to award the father majority timesharing.

The mother appealed and she won. In her appeal, she argued that the only “change in circumstances” that had occurred since the divorce judgment was the father’s moving some 47 miles away. The appeals court agreed with the mother’s argument that a move of such a short distance was too minor to constitute a “substantial change in circumstances.”

Cutting off a parent’s timesharing, even just temporarily, is considered a relatively severe outcome in Florida. Courts generally will cut off a parent’s timesharing only in a narrow range of circumstances, and are required to give the suspended parent a clear pathway to follow to get timesharing back. What this means, from a legal perspective, is that there may be several very fruitful arguments for getting the order that suspended your timesharing reversed.

Of course, in order to do that, you must have followed all of the procedural steps correctly. When it comes to your time and your relationship with your child don’t risk proceeding on your own; be sure you have experienced South Florida family law counsel on your side. Your skilled attorney can, among other things, make sure you have all of the needed documents submitted to the court and that the arguments you present are potentially persuasive ones.

As an example of the difference a skilled attorney’s presence – or absence – can make, there’s the case of J.P. and P.D. The pair shared one child together. At some point, the trial court in Miami-Dade County ordered a temporary modification of timesharing; specifically, all of the mother’s time with the child was temporarily suspended.

With any family law litigation action, there are certain hard-and-fast rules established under Florida law. You only have a set number of days (or months or years) to take certain actions, and if you’re late, then you face serious consequences. The plaintiff has a specific burden of proof that must be met, and if the burden isn’t met, then the case ends in defeat. In other words, it isn’t enough just to know the facts of your case, you must also have someone on your side who knows the law and how to use the law’s procedural rules to your maximum advantage. For these and other benefits, look to a skilled South Florida family law attorney.

In the case of F.S. and L.D. the action being pursued was court approval of a child relocation, and the mother was the one seeking permission. In this kind of proceeding, there are specific rules. First, the parent who desires to move the child must go to court and ask the judge for permission to make the move in advance. After that happens, the other parent has a very limited period of time in which to file an objection. That is one reason (among several) why, if you receive legal papers serving you with notice that your ex has filed a request for child relocation with the court, you act with all due speed, including moving swiftly to retain knowledgeable counsel.

The law only gives you 20 days after you’ve been served with papers in which to file your objection and get that objection served on the other parent. Filing too late — or failing to file at all — can have dramatically disastrous consequences. Florida law says that if a parent files a valid request for relocation and the other parent fails to submit a timely objection, then the court can simply give permission for the relocation, unless there is evidence on record to indicate that the move isn’t in the best interests of the child. What’s more, the court can make that decision and give that approval without even holding a hearing.

In a perfect world, divorcing parents would work together collaboratively, without issue or conflict, to co-parent in the best interest of the children. Ours is not a perfect world. Co-parenting children is something that requires written boundaries and, sometimes, when those boundaries are violated, issuing penalties like contempt of court findings. However, the law limits the scenarios in which a parent can be held in criminal contempt of court. Unless you violated an explicit and precise order, and you did so intentionally, you cannot be in criminal contempt. Whether you find yourself being hauled into court and being accused of being in contempt, or you are a parent dealing with your ex-spouse’s non-compliance, your relationship with your children is vitally important, so be sure you have representation from an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

R.C. and F.C. were a couple who went through a situation not unlike many Florida couples. They married in 2002. They had three children. Then, the relationship deteriorated and the husband filed for divorce in 2013. Five months after the husband filed for divorce, the spouses both signed an agreement. Their agreement, which resolved parental responsibility (among other things), said that both parents “shall share parental responsibility for the children consistent with Florida Statute.”

In a lot of situations, a marital settlement agreement can be a positive first step toward two ex-spouses working collaboratively. Sometimes, unfortunately, that isn’t the case. F.C. returned to court in 2016, arguing that the wife was in contempt of court because she wasn’t following the terms of the settlement agreement. Specifically, the father alleged that the mother had unilaterally made several decisions regarding the children’s healthcare and general welfare, instead of consulting him as required by the agreement.

Many times custody cases involve a parent who is seeking to assume, or expand, the extent to which he or she has parental responsibility for the child. However, sometimes, circumstances might dictate that an extended family member assume temporary custody for a minor child. If you were in that position, would you know how to take the proper steps to obtain legal custody? With an outcome as important as this, you need to be sure, so make certain you have a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney giving you the assistance you need.

A case litigated in Miami presented this type of extended-family-member-custody scenario. J.M. was a man originally from Guatemala residing in Florida. J.M. sought temporary custody of his minor sister through the Florida courts. The older brother’s legal petition indicated that the parents had abused the girl in her home country of Guatemala and that the parents had consented to their adult son assuming temporary custody over their minor daughter.

The trial judge was highly dubious of the accuracy of the assertions made in J.M.’s petition. The judge noted that, if everything in J.M.’s petition was true, then the “terribly abusive” parents had signed documents “basically admitting to these terrible acts.” The judge also pointed out that there were “certain immigration benefits” of the request being granted “in circumvention of existing immigration laws” For those reasons, the trial judge dismissed the request for temporary custody.

Here in Florida, judges have a legally mandated way that they approach parental responsibility (i.e., child custody) cases. Shared parental responsibility (which some of you may know by the phrase “joint custody”) is the default position under Florida law. That means that, when a couple is litigating parental responsibility, the court will award shared parental responsibility unless there is evidence indicating a good reason why that would not be in the child’s best interest. These orders also may include directives from judge regarding which parent has “ultimate decision-making authority” (sometimes called “tiebreaking” authority) in each of a specific set of areas. In order to be sure you are able to be involved in a meaningful way in your child’s life and the guidance of your child, it can be very important to achieve a positive outcome in a case like this, which is why you should be sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney working for you.

A case from here in South Florida, which was recently decided by the Fourth District Court of Appeal, shows how the parental responsibility process is supposed to work. In the case, A.C. and K.S. were a couple with children who were going through divorce in Palm Beach County. The trial court ordered shared parental responsibility, because there was not evidence to indicate that shared responsibility wasn’t proper.

Of course, as with any circumstance of divorced parents, you have two people, which means you have the potential for a decision-making impasse. To alleviate the gridlock that these kinds of deadlocks could otherwise cause, the law allows the courts to award one parent “ultimate decision-making authority,” but Florida law does not allow a trial judge simply to say, “the parents shall share parental responsibility and ultimate decision-making authority, in the case of any deadlocks, goes to the mother.”

Today, the realities of professional growth and development mean that a parent may find him/herself moving, perhaps even moving several times, across long distances in order to advance a career and provide for his/her family. That, unfortunately, can be especially complicated if the parent is divorced and has minor children from the marriage. The parent must ask the court for permission to make the move and, if the court does accept the relocation, the court may also find it necessary to make additional rulings as other aspects (like timesharing) are inherently intertwined with the issue of relocation. If you or your spouse has proposed relocating, make certain you have a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney working for you.

The case of E.S. and S.S. was one that demonstrated just how interconnected these issues were. E.S. was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, stationed in California. During the course of the divorce litigation, the wife, S.S., and the couple’s child moved from South Florida to Maryland. The trial judge set up a schedule in which the father would receive 12 visits each year–10 in Maryland and 2 in California.

However, life events intervened. The mother desired to move to North Carolina, and went back to court seeking permission to relocate with the child. The mother suggested that the court accept the move and modify timesharing to give the father 2 visits in California and 10 in North Carolina. The father opposed that, pointing out that, while there was a Coast Guard base near the child’s Maryland home, the nearest base to the proposed North Carolina destination was three hours away.

When a Florida court resolves your timesharing dispute, it is going to impose certain requirements: things that must happen and things that must not happen. One of the important things to know, especially if you are the parent who does not have majority timesharing, is that the law limits the sort of restrictions that can be placed on your timesharing. A limitation on timesharing should only be placed if it is genuinely necessary, and the court order should explain why it is needed. If it doesn’t, then you may be able to get that order overturned. For information and advice about how this and other legal rules may impact your case, be sure to contact an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

As an example, take the case of R.B. and B.T. The two lived in Austin, Texas and were in an on-and-off relationship over a period of roughly five years. The relationship produced a pregnancy and, shortly before the baby was born, the mother relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida. The father remained in Austin.

The relationship was, in the words of the court, “acrimonious” and “volatile.” After the child’s birth, the mother filed an action for paternity and requested adjudication of timesharing and child support. The father did not contest paternity. With regard to timesharing, the court ordered that the father received visitation of one weekend per month, to occur in St. Petersburg, until the child reached age five. After the child’s 5th birthday, the father was to receive two weekends per month: one in St. Petersburg and the second in St. Petersburg or Austin, whichever the father preferred.

There is a tendency among some people to believe that certain types of cases are ones that don’t really require the aid of a skilled attorney. Family law matters can be one example. Parties may think that their cases are simple enough that they don’t need an attorney or they may think that they cannot afford legal representation. With all the ways that a case can “go wrong,” and all the severe consequences that can arise if your family law case does veer south, whether it is a divorce action, a parental responsibility case or some other area of family law, it is more viable to argue that you can’t afford not to have a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney on your side.

Here’s an example: K.E. and D.M. were former spouses who were in court because the husband had filed a request to modify timesharing, the couple’s parenting plan and the child support obligation. Generally, many of these issues often require multiple varieties of proof. As the parent seeking modification, you may be required to prove that substantial change of circumstances has occurred before the judge will even consider the modification you desire. If you clear that hurdle, you may need to show additionally forms of proof related to issues like the best interest of the child.

In this couple’s case, the judge ruled for the father and entered the modification he requested. The mother appealed but she again was unsuccessful. The Fifth District Court of Appeal’s opinion did not indicate whether or not one or both spouses had attorneys at the trial-court level, but, in the appeals court case, the mother proceeded without a lawyer while the father had legal representation.

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