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Articles Posted in Modification (Custody/Time Sharing)

You probably already knew that the outcome of your family law case can be affected by the state in which the case is litigated, as another state’s laws may be different from those of Florida. But you may not have known that the outcome of your case can differ based on where it’s litigated within Florida. A case heard in Broward County might conceivably have a different outcome than if it were heard in Orange County, due a difference of opinion between the two different District Courts of Appeal (the Fourth and the Fifth, respectively) whose rulings control in those counties. This is just one more example of the many nuances of the law and just one more reason why you can benefit from having a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney on your side.

Very recently, the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland made an important new ruling. In 2019, a trial court in Pasco County modified two parents’ parenting plan, switching from majority timesharing with the mother to majority timesharing with the father.

In her appeal, the mother argued that the trial judge made a critical mistake in failing to give her specific instructions on what steps she must complete in order to regain majority timesharing. In the past, the Second District court had said that, “when a trial court denies or restricts a parent’s time-sharing with his or her child, it must specify steps for the parent to take in order to regain meaningful time-sharing.” In D.M. and B.M.’s case, the court made a significant change to that rule, stating that the decision to include or forego stating such instructions is a matter of judicial discretion, so failing to put them in an order is not necessarily a legal error.

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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.

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Certainly, the best way to deal with issues like unexpected problems with timesharing schedules is often for the parents to work together collaboratively to find a solution that best meets their children’s needs. That, however, may not always be possible. So, you may wonder, what happens if I have agreed to modify the parenting plan in the past but this time I don’t want to? Am I required to agree again? The precise answer to that question may lie in your divorce judgment and parenting plan, or may lie in other specific facts from your case, so you should be sure to consult with an experienced South Florida family law attorney about your legal rights and obligations.

As one recent case revealed, you may not be legally required to accommodate your ex-spouse. C.B. and L.W., the ex-spouses in that case, were the parents of two children. The children lived with the father outside Gainesville. The mother, on the other hand, moved several times. The parenting plan included in the divorce judgment acknowledged that the mother lived in Texas at the time of the divorce (2012) and that the mother would have timesharing “at times and places agreed upon with the father.”

At first, that meant that the parents had a “long-distance-friendly” timesharing schedule to accommodate the mother’s home being far from the children. In 2014, the mother had moved to Florida, so the parent moved to a “one-week-on-one-week-off” schedule. By 2017, the mother lived in New Jersey with her new husband, so the parents returned to the “long-distance-friendly” schedule.

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Having a judge rule against you after a timesharing modification hearing in which you weren’t given a fair chance to argue your side can make you feel upset, frustrated and maybe hopeless. When that happens, don’t just give up, but don’t simply dash off to file an appeal on your own, either. A skilled South Florida family law attorney may help you spot additional flaws in your hearing or your judge’s orders that you can use effectively to achieve success.

For example, one Miami-Dade County mom, who retained this firm for her case, was able to use due process errors to get her timesharing back. S.T., the mother, was divorced with two twin daughters. The parents’ modified parenting plan called for each parent to share parental responsibility and receive equal timesharing.

Early in 2020, the mother canceled one daughter’s dental surgery due to “a lack of compliance with essential preoperative instructions.” It’s useful to know that the mother was a practicing physician, so she, in all likelihood, came into this dental surgery with considerably more knowledge of medicine and preoperative medical procedures than just your “average” mom. Based on this canceled surgery, the father filed an “urgent motion” asking the court to cut off all of the mother’s timesharing.

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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.

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Recently, this blog took a look at the challenges associated with maintaining a court-ordered timesharing schedule during this time of COVID-19 risks and governmental shelter-in-place orders. You should follow your timesharing order when you can. When that’s impossible, you should work together collaboratively with your child’s other parent to forge a solution. If you have questions about whether your preferred (but off-schedule) solution for dealing with timesharing in this pandemic could get you in trouble with the court later on, be sure you consult with an experienced South Florida family law attorney before taking any unilateral action that is inconsistent with your timesharing order.

The Miami Herald took a look at this pandemic and its impacts on these sorts of families. The best technique for dealing with any sudden and unexpected disruption to your family’s court-ordered timesharing schedule is, of course, working together as parents to reach a solution that meets the best interests of your child. As an example, one mom from outside Florida, who worked as a doctor, agreed with her ex-husband that the couple’s daughter should remain with him until the danger passed because the mother was at too great risk of exposure. Additionally, a Pennsylvania dad, whose job required him to fix HVAC systems in grocery stores on a daily basis, concluded (in tandem with his ex-wife) that his job carried too much risk and that the couple’s 20-month-old son should temporarily stay full-time with the mother.

On the flip side, though, the Herald article cited an example of a potentially inappropriate response: a Virginia mom who, shortly before she was supposed to hand off her 10-year-old son to his father, unilaterally decided that the boy should stay with her until the current shelter-in-place order expired. (Currently, Virginia is under such an order until at least June 10.) “She basically used this to indefinitely halt my custody with my son,” the father said in the article.

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It is once again the holiday season. It is the time of vacations from school and (perhaps) work, along with family get-togethers. For divorced spouses with children, it is also a time for managing the challenges of timesharing. Hopefully, the parents will work together cooperatively to facilitate the growth of each parent’s relationship with the child.

Regrettably, that is not always true. Whether it is the holidays, spring break, summer vacation or some other visit, your spouse may seek to make unreasonable demands regarding timesharing that aren’t part of your agreement or court order. When that happens, be sure you have a skilled Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney on your side to ensure that your rights and your relationship (and time) with your child are protected.

R.B. and M.O. were a divorced couple whose case involved long-distance timesharing logistical issues. The mother lived in Broward County. The father was a major in the U.S. Army stationed in Colorado. The couple had a timesharing order that said that the father and mother would “confer regarding airplane tickets and will mutually agree prior to booking” any air travel.

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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.”

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.

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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