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Articles Posted in In The News (Custody/Time Sharing)

A Florida woman who raised four children together with her same-sex partner for several years lost her bid to obtain court-ordered timesharing with the two biological children of her partner. The 2d District Court of Appeal ruled that, even though the women had raised the children together for years, and they had an informal visitation arrangement for two more years after the relationship ended, the woman had no legal relationship with the children, so the children’s biological mother had a fundamental right to cut off and deny visitation to her former partner. Even though the law has recently changed in Florida regarding same-sex marriage, a marriage between the two women alone may have not saved the woman’s case, since she still would not have been a legal parent to the children. Only adoption would have guaranteed her rights, which was a choice that became available in Florida prior to the women’s separation.

The couple, S.R. and E.P., decided to start a family after several years together. The women purchased anonymous donor sperm, and, using that sperm, each woman became pregnant twice and had two children. The women raised the four children together as one family until their relationship deteriorated and, in the spring of 2011, they separated.
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The long-running and often contentious child custody dispute between pro basketball star Dwyane Wade and his ex-wife, Siohvaughn Funches, added a new chapter recently when the 3d District Court of Appeal issued a ruling upholding a timesharing decision made last year by a Miami-Dade trial judge. Although rejecting the mother’s appeal, the court warned lawyers on both sides regarding their behavior in email exchanges between the two sides. The case offers a reminder that, regardless of the amount of financial resources, child custody matters are often very emotional and hard-fought disputes.

Wade and his wife filed for divorce in 2007, which was finalized three years later after a long and arduous battle. During their marriage, the couple had two sons. In 2011, the father obtained a court order from a judge in Chicago granting him sole custody of both of the boys. The Illinois court’s custody ruling was domesticated to, and became enforceable in, Florida a year later.
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For some, it is about the ethics of performing arguably medically unnecessary surgery on a child. For other, it is about how much “say so” each parent should have in making decisions on behalf of his or her child. For the Florida courts, however, the case surrounding a child’s circumcision boiled down to the existence of a valid parenting agreement and the absence of any changed circumstances that would warrant the courts stepping in to avert that agreement’s execution.

The Palm Beach County parents H.H. and D.N. gave birth to the boy in 2010. The parents never married. Shortly after the child turned one, the parents each signed an agreed parenting plan. Parenting plans are required in cases that involve timesharing, even if the parents are in agreement about the timesharing schedule.
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A recent ruling by the Third District Court of Appeal sided against a Native American mother in her attempt to invoke the jurisdiction of the Miccosukee Tribal Court to resolve a custody dispute regarding two children she shared with a man who was not Native American. The decision has substantial impact for South Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe, which is situated in the Everglades just to the west of Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

While the issue of custody of children who are part Native American has been prominently litigated recently, including the “Baby Veronica” case which went all the way to the US Supreme Court, the dispute between a mother who was a member of the Miccosukee Tribe, and a father who was not Native American, involved a different aspect of the law. This case did not involve resolving custody based upon the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, as was the case in the “Baby Veronica” matter, but rather the the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

The case began when a custody dispute cropped up between the parents and the mother filed for custody in the Miccosukee Tribal Court. The court held a hearing and awarded custody to the mother. The father then filed in the 11th Circuit Court in Miami. The mother sought to shut down the father’s case, arguing that the tribal court had resolved the matter and that, under the terms of the UCCJEA, the Florida court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the dispute.
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In a groundbreaking decision earlier this month, a sharply divided Florida Supreme Court concluded that a woman who donated her eggs to her lesbian partner so that the couple could have, and raise, a child together possesses a fundamental constitutional right to parent the child. In the process, the court declared unconstitutional a statute that created an automatic waiver of the parental rights of all reproductive material donors, concluding that the statute, as applied to the lesbian egg donor, violated her Due Process rights.

The case involved the custody of the daughter of a lesbian couple. In 2003, the couple set about to have a child. They used one partner’s egg, but the other partner carried and delivered the child. The couple gave birth to the daughter in January 2004. Two years later, though, the relationship failed and the birth mother cut off all contact in December 2007.

The other partner, known in the court documents as “T.M.H.,” filed a legal action to establish her parental rights to the daughter. The birth mother challenged the action, arguing that Florida law afforded T.M.H. no parental rights and that, by signing an “informed consent” form, T.M.H. had surrendered all parental rights. The trial court ruled in favor of the birth mother, but the 5th District Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the Florida Statute governing donated reproductive material was unconstitutional as applied to T.M.H.
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Just three short months after Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade’s divorce became final, a Florida appeals court was again called upon to enter a decision in the half-decade long legal contest. The 3d District Court of Appeal overturned a trial court’s order requiring the NBA star’s ex-wife to undergo a mental evaluation and also removed the trial court judge from the case, citing his denial of the “most basic right of due process” to the ex-wife, Siohvaughn Funches.

Many of the facts of Wade’s ill-fated marriage are well-known by now. Wade and Funches married in 2002, had two sons, and filed for divorce in 2007. The divorce proceeding turned into a marathon affair, becoming final only three months ago. In the property settlement, Wade agreed to pay Funches $25,000 in alimony, with another $10,000 in travel and living expenses. The basketball star also agreed to pay Funches’ mortgage and gave her the use of four cars.

This outcome apparently displeased the ex-wife, as Funches took to the streets of her hometown of Chicago. Funches stages a public protest claiming that the divorce had left her “on the streets.” Wade’s legal team fired back, returning to court to argue that Funches’ protest demonstrated her mental instability and dangerousness and requested that the court order a psychological evaluation of the woman and reduce her contact with the boys. Trial court judge Antonio Marin ordered the evaluation.
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The Miami-Dade area will be host to a landmark custody battle that will decide the fate of not only the litigants involved but of Native American-Florida relations.A West Miami-Dade resident will be fighting for the custody of his two children in a Miami-Dade court, after having been repeatedly denied parental rights in Native American Tribal Court. The mother of his children and he never married. She is a member of the Miccosukee tribe. After their relationship dissolved the two shared custody and visitation of the children in an informal and unofficial weekend-by-weekend manner.

In October, relations went sour between the two and the woman filed for a petition for temporary custody in Miccosukee tribal court in which the petition was immediately granted and a court date was set. The man reacted by having his attorney file a petition in Miami-Dade and the two of them attended the Miccosukee tribal hearing. The man’s attorney was not allowed in the courtroom based on his “failure to speak the Miccosukee language”. The hearing was conducted wholly in the tribal tongue with only a brief translation. The woman was awarded full custody.

In this case, the central focus will not be the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which so often comes into play during adoption and custody battles regarding Native American children, but rather the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act which provides the courts jurisdiction in deciding custody disputes involving citizens of different states or countries. The act follows federal law and accordingly Indian reservations, the Miccosukee included, are treated as sovereign states.

The key provision of the law: the court with jurisdiction is the one from where the children resided “within 6 months” of the “commencement of the proceedings” for child custody. The man is contending that the woman does not and has not lived on the reservation; the woman is obviously claiming she has resided on the reservation and that she has been the sole financial provider for the children.

The state of Florida officially recognized the now well known reservation known as the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida in 1957. The reservation was recognized by the federal government in 1962.

These types of custody battles are not uncommon in states with large Indian populations. In South Florida, however, this case is likely a first, according to the attorneys. The latest census puts the number of Native Americans in Florida at less than 10,000. The Miccosukees are the Miami-Dade area’s biggest local tribe with a population of 600.
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According to the National Council on Disability, about one in ten kids in the United States have at least one parent who is disabled. In addition, about 4.1 million handicapped parents are reportedly caring for a child under the age of 18. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 to protect the rights of handicapped citizens, disabled parents throughout the country still allegedly face a great deal of difficulty maintaining custody of their children. More than half of states purportedly allow a parent’s rights to be terminated based on a real or perceived disability. In addition, up to 80 percent of parents who suffer an intellectual or psychiatric disability allegedly lose custody of their offspring.

Each state reportedly allows disability to be considered by a court when determining child custody issues. In some states, diseases such as cancer are also taken into account. Additionally, disabled adults purportedly face discrimination with regard to adoption in most cases. Robyn Powell, an attorney for the National Council on Disability, stated she believes individuals with a disability may have the ability to adjust to the stresses associated with becoming a parent more easily than others because they are already accustomed to adapting. Powell said such parents should be supported instead of punished.

Powell stated that the number of disabled parents across the nation is expected to grow over the next few years as many wounded warriors return from overseas deployment. She also reportedly believes both private and public organizations should work hard to support disabled parents who require additional assistance and to ensure that their parental rights are protected. According to Powell, child welfare organizations throughout the nation should begin to assume disabled parents are capable of raising their children despite that they may require additional community support.

The question of who will care for your children in the event of a marital split is generally an emotional one. Most parents worry about not only losing custody of their kids, but how much time they will have to spend with them throughout the week and on important dates such as birthdays. Since October 2008, divorcing parents in Florida must enter into a court approved time-sharing agreement that states exactly how much time a minor child will spend with each parent. In the alternative, a family law judge will create a time-sharing schedule for parents who cannot agree. A Florida family court will normally examine a number of factors when considering any child custody award or agreement. A hardworking family law attorney can explain the process in more detail.
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Governor Rick Scott recently signed a 61-page document that has essentially rewritten Florida adoption laws. House Bill 1355, titled “Protection of Vulnerable Persons,” was created after a Baker County judge reportedly placed a four-year-old girl in the custody of a registered sex-offender who was not her biological father in July 2011.

The heated custody battle reportedly began after the child’s grandmother applied to formally adopt her. The case drew national attention when the girl was removed from her grandmother’s home and placed with her deceased mother’s husband. The child’s mother was killed in a car accident one month after the husband reportedly filed for divorce from the woman. Because Florida law considered him the child’s legal father, the Jacksonville judge was required to award custody to the man.

The new adoption law will reportedly have a significant impact on the adoption process in Florida. Portions of the law were designed to steer more children away from the current state adoption process administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and into allegedly more efficient private entity adoptions. The law also requires family court judges to notify an individual relinquishing their parental rights that he or she may speak to private adoption organizations in addition to DCF.

Under the new law, DCF will no longer have the authority to take custody of a newborn that is abandoned or tests positive for drugs or alcohol. The adoption law will also tighten adoption regulations and require a home study before a child in Florida may be transitioned into a new home.

Florida’s new adoption law provides that only state-licensed private adoption entities may advertise children who are available for adoption. Previously, anyone could legally advertise an adoptable child. The aim of the advertising measure was purportedly to cut down on a number of private adoption organizations that were not reputable. House Bill 1355 was amended a total of nine times before it unanimously passed both the Florida House and Senate.

In Florida, family law is constantly changing and evolving. If you are faced with a family law matter such as a child custody dispute or a step parent adoption, it is a good idea to consult with a knowledgeable Florida family law lawyer early on in the process.
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Yesterday, a judge in Miami-Dade’s Family Court lifted an emergency protection order that forbade a 22-year-old father from seeing his 3-year-old daughter. The father is currently engaged in a custody battle with the child’s mother, a Venezuelan national who reportedly accused him of kidnapping their daughter in March 2011. She allegedly filed a missing persons report on the child before returning to Venezuela to give birth to another baby. It is currently unclear whether she ever intends to return to the United States.

In February, the father was reportedly arrested in Pensacola and returned to Miami-Dade on interfering with child custody charges. He was released from jail on Wednesday. His mother was also reportedly arrested for interfering with child custody after she brought the child to court last month in order to demonstrate she was not missing and was being well cared for. Last Monday, a Miami-Dade judge dismissed both interfering with custody charges.

According to the man’s mother, she and her husband had custody of the child at the time the child’s mother reported her missing. The child’s mother allegedly accused the child’s father of child abuse, child neglect, and domestic violence as well as kidnapping. A home study of the grandmother’s residence reportedly revealed no environmental hazards, no evidence of abuse, and stated the child was happy. Following the home study, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman granted temporary custody of the child to the grandparents. Permanent custody of the child will not be resolved until the child’s mother returns from Venezuela.

To many parents, the question of who will retain custody of your children following a separation or divorce is an emotional one. Since October 2008, child custody arrangements in Florida have been referred to as time-sharing schedules. A time-sharing agreement generally outlines the amount of time a child will spend with each parent, including overnights, weekends, school breaks, and holidays. If parents cannot come to an agreement regarding a time-sharing plan, one will be ordered by a family court. A Florida family court will normally examine the moral fitness of the parents, any evidence of abuse, and a variety of other statutory factors when creating a time-sharing schedule. Because a Florida parent who wishes to modify a time-sharing plan must show substantially changed circumstances, modifying a time-sharing plan can be difficult. If you are a Florida parent who would like to establish or modify your child’s time-sharing plan, it is a good idea to contact a skilled family law lawyer to assist you.
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