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Articles Posted in Custody/Time-Sharing

When it comes to planning, nothing is more important than doing the planning necessary to protect your family. By retaining the services of a skilled South Florida family law attorney, you can be sure you have the right “safety net” to protect your most priceless treasure: your relationship with your children.

No one wants to think about planning for a potential breakup of their new marriage or newly expanded family, but that’s when you should begin planning to give yourself the “safety net” your family needs. If you’re a gay or lesbian parent whose children are the biological offspring of your spouse/partner but have no biological link to you, it is especially important that you do the proper planning to protect your relationship with your children.

It may be easy to think that, when the U.S. Supreme Court made its marriage equality ruling in the Obergefell v. Hodges case five years ago, all of the unique risks that LGBT+ parents face went away, but that’s simply not true, and a recent case from the Orlando area just further highlighted that fact.

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Alcohol abuse is a problem that affects millions of families across the U.S. A branch of the federal Department of Health and Human Services did a study that revealed that in excess of 10% of children in this country “live with a parent with alcohol problems.” When a parent with alcohol problems goes through a divorce, that problem may make working out a parenting plan more complex. Whether you or your ex-spouse is the parent is the one with drinking issues, it is important to recognize that there are certain things you can do within your parenting plan to address the problems, but there are also limits on your options. As you work through these difficult issues, it is invaluable to have a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney to give you the thoughtful legal advice and effective advocacy your family needs as you set up your parenting plan.

A family from Broward County who recently went before the Florida courts is an example of the many facets of these cases. The mother filed for divorce after nine years of marriage, citing the father’s drinking. The mother asked the judge to order a parenting plan that awarded her majority timesharing along with ultimate decision-making authority, and that limited the father to supervised visits. The father argued for unsupervised visits and shared decision-making.

The judge ultimately awarded the father unsupervised visits, but made them conditional on his refraining from drinking. To make sure the father was abstaining, the plan called for the father to undergo blood-alcohol content (BAC) testing at the beginning and end of each visit. The judge also gave the mother the right to demand, at her discretion, ”periodic and immediate BAC tests,” even when the father didn’t have the children. The order further demanded that the father pay 100% of the costs associated with all of the BAC testing.

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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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The current pandemic caused by COVID-19 (a/k/a novel coronavirus) has upset almost everyone’s routines. Miami, Miami Beach and many others in South Florida were, as of March 25, under a “shelter in place” or “safer at home” order. Businesses are closed, churches are closed, schools are closed, and many parents may be unable to attend work, as well. If you are a divorced parent with children of that marriage, one question that may be at the forefront of your mind is… how do the current circumstances affect my timesharing schedule? You may have concerns about doing an exchange due to infection risks or because of the current governmental orders in place, but you may also have concerns about deviating from the court-ordered schedule for fear of facing a contempt of court charge later. For answers to you pressing questions about timesharing, be sure that you’re getting advice from a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.

An article recently published by Business Insider focused on this. The answer to this unprecedented question, as is true for so many legal matters, is… it depends. If, for example, you have primary responsibility for your children and the children’s other parent is infected with this virus, then the legal system is not going to require you to give that parent timesharing while she/he’s infected. This may be made even simpler because, if she/he’s infected, she/he probably will insist that you keep the kids until her/his period of contagiousness (and risk to the children) passes. On the other hand, if your children’s other parent isn’t infected, but her/his current partner’s coworker’s spouse is, that probably isn’t enough basis for refusing to facilitate timesharing.

One key thing to know is that there is no law that is, as lawyers call it, exactly “on point.” There is no Florida Statute or court case that says what you should do about timesharing during a global viral pandemic. However, one thing that the courts have stressed, time and again, is the importance of parents working together collaboratively in the best interests of their children.

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This past January was an important anniversary to many gay and lesbian couples in Florida. Five years ago on January 6, same-sex couples were, for the first time, legally able to marry in the Sunshine State. With that event, and with the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling the following June, it might be easy to assume that it’s now all smooth sailing for LGBT families in Florida. However, that isn’t always the case, especially if there are children involved. If you are a gay or lesbian couple who has minor children, there may still be potential pitfalls, which is why it is still very wise to consult an experienced Fort Lauderdale family law attorney about your situation.

Last year, a gay couple lost their case seeking to have both of them recognized as their children’s fathers. They had added two children to their family through the use of an egg donor and a surrogate mother in Canada, and their high court told them that only the children’s biological father could be recognized as a legal parent. The other partner would “have to apply for special permission to become their adoptive father,” according to a report from thelocal.it.

That case happened in Italy, not in Florida. However, recent rulings from Florida courts also raise the possibility of problems for gay and lesbian couples with children. Back in 2018, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling that, while not involving gay or lesbian parents, could have a profound impact on LGBT families.

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Late last May, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion called In re Amendments to the Florida Evidence Code. As a spouse contemplating divorce or a parent potentially facing a parental responsibility/timesharing case, you may think that a thing like a Supreme Court opinion on “amendments to the Florida Evidence Code” would be some sort of “hyper-technical lawyer thing” that would have little or no impact on your case. And, quite possibly, you’d be wrong in thinking that. Of course, it really isn’t reasonable to expect you, as a non-lawyer, to be keeping up with all the new changes to the Florida Rules of Evidence. This is a great reason, among a host of others, why it pays to have a knowledgeable Florida attorney on your side. Your experienced Fort Lauderdale family law attorney is going to be up to date on all of those changes and how to use those amended rules to your maximum benefit.

That May opinion from the Supreme Court altered the way that trial courts analyze whether or not expert evidence is admissible proof in a case. Up until the Supreme Court’s opinion, the rules for determining whether expert evidence was admissible were contained in a 1923 federal appellate case. Going forward, Florida’s rules of evidence for expert evidence admissibility will rely much more on a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case called Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals.

Under the new rules in Florida, expert evidence is admissible if the testimony “is based upon sufficient facts or data” and “is the product of reliable principles and methods.” Additionally, the expert witness advancing that testimony must have “applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.”

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Recently, an appeals court here in Florida ruled that a stepfather was not entitled to timesharing or visitation with his stepchild, even though his evidence established that he was the father figure in that child’s life. This harsh result is a reminder of the status of Florida law and the profound importance of making sure you are taking the proper legal steps to protect your relationship with that child. Whether you are an LGBT partner/spouse of a biological parent, a heterosexual stepparent or hold some other relationship, it is very important to retain a skilled Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney and complete the right legal processes, or else you may be denied contact with that child if you and your spouse/partner split.

In that recent case, J.H. and his wife were a married couple raising three children in the Tampa area. The eldest of the three was born the year before the marriage and had her last name changed to match the rest of the family. She was, however, not J.H.’s biological child and J.H. never legally adopted her.

After eight years of marriage, the husband filed for divorce. The mother did not promptly take action in response to the husband’s filing, which led to a default judgment in the divorce. That default judgment said that J.H. would have 100% timesharing with the children except for visits with the mother that were subject to J.H.’s approval. The judgment also said that the two would share parental responsibility for decision-making but that J.H. would hold tie-breaking authority in all areas.

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