Articles Posted in Custody/Time-Sharing

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.

You go into court expecting and understanding that yours is a case about one thing. Maybe that one thing is alimony or maybe it’s your spouse’s petition for a domestic violence protective injunction. Once you’re in the hearing, though, the judge starts asking your spouse questions about your timesharing arrangement with your children. At the end, the judge alters your timesharing plan and increases your child support obligation. If that happens, what can you do? Would know how to handle such a scenario? It is not unreasonable for most people to have no idea how to respond. This is just one example among many where it pays to have representation from a skilled South Florida family law attorney, so that you can be sure that your rights are protected.

A very recent case from Miami-Dade County was example of how this can happen and what you can do. L.R.L. and J.R. were a couple who had three children together. After eight years of marriage, the wife filed for divorce in September 2017. The wife filed two petitions, one in 2016 and one 2017, seeking domestic violence protective injunctions. In her allegations, the wife asserted that the husband had a history of bipolar disorder, that he was not taking his medication and he had recently undergone a psychiatric hospitalization.

The husband also allegedly showed up at the wife’s front door between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. one morning barefoot, half dressed and wearing a hospital sheet. This incident was one of the bases for the wife’s seeking the second injunction in 2017. Although the wife did not seeking any changes to the couple’s timesharing arrangement, the judge nevertheless asked the wife about timesharing. The wife then told the judge that she felt that the husband’s having unsupervised visitation was no longer proper.

There are many ways that your family law case can go awry, and some of those ways are completely unrelated to the facts of your dispute. You can get tripped up by things like jurisdiction or the statute of limitations. You can also encounter difficulties if you fail to meet discovery deadlines, including those related to expert witness testimony. Severe enough infractions can even lead to your expert being excluded from trial and you being denied a continuance to get your evidence in order. If you find yourself in a family law dispute, be sure to obtain a skilled Florida divorce attorney to avoid these pitfalls and, if it is the opposing party who is delaying, to use the courts to protect yourself and your children.

The issues of delays and continuances were at the center of one recent South Florida divorce case. In this dispute, the wife filed for divorce and asked the trial court to appoint a psychologist who would “interview, test and evaluate” both spouses and their child. This was related to determining parental responsibility, timesharing and a parenting plan. The spouses eventually agreed to a doctor and the examination went forward. Later, the husband hired a different psychologist to give testimony about the first doctor’s report, as well as prepare a report of her own.

The trial was scheduled for June 1. The deposition for the husband’s expert was set for May 30. The husband missed many deadlines for disclosing his expert’s report. Finally, on May 25, the husband asked for a continuance of the trial. At the continuance hearing, the husband’s expert said she’d been delayed by computer problems and a death in the family. The trial judge rejected the husband’s request for that delay of the trial. The judge also excluded the husband’s expert from testifying in the case.

If you want a judge to make changes to your timesharing arrangement in Florida, it is very important to understand in advance what you need. Certainly, you need proof that the change you’re proposing in the best interest of the child. Beyond that, however, you also need proof that a substantial change of circumstances has taken place, and that the change was not something that you and your ex-spouse contemplated at the time of your divorce.. With evidence of that change, the court cannot order any change to your timesharing arrangement. When it comes to making the evidentiary showings necessary to get the timesharing changes your family needs, be sure you have legal representation from a skilled South Florida family law attorney.

The case of M.G. and C.G. was an example of how this process works and what analyses a court must make. The father, M.G., petitioned the court asking for a modification. The mother, C.G., opposed making any changes to the existing timesharing arrangement. (An Oklahoma court had given the mother primary custody in 2010.)

M.G. alleged that several significant changes had occurred since the Oklahoma court’s 2010 ruling. The father alleged that the mother had moved with the boy nine times and enrolled him in five different elementary schools, and that the mother failed to foster communication between the child and the father. The father’s petition alleged that the mother’s husband abused the boy. He also alleged that he had retired from the U.S. Air Force and, now out of the military, was in a better position to provide more care for the child.

In any type of court case, including a Florida family law case, there’s the potential to think that you’re “behind the 8-ball.” Even if you find yourself in a very disadvantageous position legally, it is important not to assume that you have no options. Many times, under the law, you have more options than you might think, and skilled representation can make the difference between success and failure. Don’t give up on your case; take action instead and retain skilled Florida counsel. One South Florida father did exactly that, retaining our firm, and successfully getting a modification of his timesharing agreement overturned.

Our client, J.M., was a father who found himself hauled into court on the mother’s “emergency” request to modify timesharing. Filing an emergency motion can possibly allow you to get a hearing before a judge on an expedited basis. Even if you find yourself on the defending side of such a motion and facing a hearing in the immediate future, it is important to make every effort to retain counsel.

J.M. did not have a lawyer at his emergency hearing. The judge let the mother testify and let her call a witness. After the clock passed 5:00 p.m., the judge announced that the allotted time had expired and that the hearing was over. The father had not testified, had not presented any evidence and had not even finished cross-examining the mother. Unsurprisingly, based on this limited array of evidence, the trial court ruled in favor of the mother.

If you find yourself in a situation in which you need to move, and the custody of your child is the subject of a court order, there are certain steps you must take. First, go out and retain the services of a skilled South Florida child custody attorney. Even if the relocation is one made as a result of financial necessity (such as a sole income earner’s involuntary job transfer) or is entirely out of your control (such as a deportation), the law nevertheless says that you must go to court and file a petition requesting to relocate with the child. The court will assess the evidence and determine whether or not the move is in the best interest of the child. It is important that you wait until your petition is granted before making the move.The case of S.B. and J.B. was an example of this type of dispute. The parents were divorced spouses who shared custody of a minor child. The divorce took place while the mother was pregnant, and the divorce settlement agreement stated that the unborn child would reside primarily with the mother.

Some time later, though, the mother’s new husband received a job transfer to South Florida. Unable to find a new job near home, the husband accepted the transfer, and the family planned to move to South Florida. The mother asked the court to approve the relocation. The court in these parents’ case ordered the parents to attempt to work out their timesharing issues on their own. S.B., even though the court hadn’t issued a relocation order, moved the child to South Florida anyway. This relocation led the couple to return to court. The judge denied the mother’s request to relocate the child. In addition, the judge also modified timesharing, ordering that the child reside primarily with the father. Specifically, the court awarded the father 70% timesharing.

The mother appealed and won her appeal case. The mother’s success hinged upon a very basic legal concept, that of “due process of law.” Due process of law, guaranteed by the U.S. and Florida constitutions, means several things. One of the aspects of due process that can come up in family law cases is being denied notice. The law says that a court cannot grant a party “relief” that was not requested and cannot decide an issue that was not “noticed” prior to the hearing. As a hypothetical example, if you receive notice that your ex-spouse has asked the court to modify your child support obligation upward, and you go to court on what you believe to be a child support modification hearing, the judge cannot decide at the end of that child support modification hearing to double your alimony obligation.

Many people likely remember that, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry in all 50 states three summers ago. Two years later, the high court made another ruling that, although receiving less news media coverage than the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision, also had a massive impact on families with gay and lesbian parents. That more recent ruling, from the summer of 2017, declared that the states were required to list a same-sex spouse on a child’s birth certificate if they similarly listed a mother’s husband (even if the husband was not the biological father). While some may view these battles as primarily political or social in nature, the reality is that birth certificates play a very substantial role when it comes to determining child custody after a split. Regardless of your orientation, probably nothing is more important to you than your relationship with your children, which is why you should make sure you retain a knowledgeable Florida family law attorney to handle your child custody case.

The reason this issue of names on a birth certificate matters so much is because of the way that Florida goes about deciding who has what rights when it comes to custody of, and timesharing with, a child. The law in this state grants a parent a privacy right that entitles the parent to control the amount of contact a child has with someone who does not have the status of legal parenthood.

Obviously, this matters for some opposite-sex couples, where the child may live with two parent figures, one of whom has legal status and one of whom does not. It matters a great deal, though, for a lot of same-sex couples where many of their families are in that position. It matters because, although everyone wants to think that their current marriage/relationship will last forever, many don’t. If you’re gay or lesbian, you may find yourself one day completely cut off from the child you raised for a decade or more since he/she was a baby.

There are many things that parents likely want to accomplish with the outcome of any parental responsibility and timesharing case. Certainly, in order to facilitate stability for the child, one thing that you likely want is a lasting resolution. However, that can be complicated sometimes, given that life is fluid and circumstances change. When there are future changes in circumstances that you know are going to happen, you can plan ahead in order to deal with them in your timesharing order. In order to make sure that you get a parenting plan that best meets your child’s needs and protects your relationship with the child, be sure that you are working with an experienced Florida family law attorney.

J. and S. were a couple who had a timesharing case that involved an important future event: their child’s starting kindergarten. While the child had not started school at the time that the court entered a paternity, parental responsibility and timesharing order, that beginning of school was in the not-too-distant future. The trial court’s order on timesharing declared that the child should initially spend 50 percent of the time with each of the two parents. However, once the child began kindergarten, the timesharing schedule would cease to be workable, as the parents lived roughly 50 miles apart. The court order stated that, once school started, the father would have majority timesharing with the child, unless the mother moved closer to the father’s residence.

The mother opposed this ruling. One aspect that she challenged was the court’s ruling regarding what would transpire once the child began kindergarten. This part of the order was an improper “prospective” (in other words, future-looking) decision about proper timesharing. The trial court agreed and rescinded the previous timesharing order regarding what would happen after the child started kindergarten.

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