Articles Posted in Custody/Time-Sharing

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.

You may have heard phrases like “due process” or “equal protection” on the news or in a courtroom TV show, but you may not imagine them having a substantial impact on your divorce case. You may assume that your divorce case will involve, primarily, an assessment of the factual evidence each side presents. That is not always true, however. Any family law case, like any other case, can turn on issues of fact or issues of law, including constitutional law. That’s why, no matter how straightforward or basic you may think your family law case is, you should be sure to retain the services of an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

One recent South Florida case is an example of this concept. Zanja and Richard’s case started as a straightforward paternity, timesharing, and child support matter. The court originally scheduled the hearing for one day. As is true in many cases, this pair’s hearing ran long. At the end of the first day of the hearing, the judge scheduled a second day for the continuation of the hearing. At the start of that second day, the court indicated that both sides would have a chance to present their cases-in-chief.

At the end of the second day, the parties still weren’t finished. However, this time, the judge did not allow the hearing to expand to another day. The judge ordered that, due to time limitations, each side would simply wrap up by presenting their closing arguments, and the judge would rule on what had been presented. There was one major problem:  the mother still hadn’t had the opportunity to present her case-in-chief yet.

Ideally, divorced parents are able to work together in a collaborative and cooperative fashion to meet the needs of their child when it comes to things like timesharing. Sometimes, though, that doesn’t happen. In some families, the issues of custody and timesharing can be matters of intense disagreement. Whether you need advice or in-court representation (or both) regarding timesharing issues, you should make sure you retain an experienced Florida child custody attorney.

One recent timesharing case that involved a definite lack of cooperation was the dispute between Reva and Hunter, whose situation fit into that “intense disagreement” category. The depth of their disagreement went all the way down to disagreeing about the exact hour when holiday timesharing exchanges should take place. One spring break, that disagreement boiled over. “Threats were made, texts exchanged, and the police were called,” as the court summarized it.

Of course, that also brought the parents back into court on the timesharing issue. The mother asked the trial court to hold the father in contempt of court. Instead, the trial judge concluded that the mother’s interpretation of the timesharing agreement was not reasonable and that the father was entitled a payment of his attorney’s fees by the mother.

Before you sign any agreement regarding your rights in a child custody and timesharing situation, it is important to understand fully exactly what you are agreeing to do. If the terms of an agreement include provisions that clearly encompass a move out of state, you may very possibly not be able to contest that out-of-state move later. In other words, always know before you sign. An experienced Florida child custody attorney can advise you on your rights and the relative benefits and disadvantages of any potential agreement.

The dispute between Emmanuel and Laurie was one that involved a cross-country move. The couple was married in 2011 and separated in 2015, and the wife filed for divorce in 2017. The pair had one child together. While the divorce case was still ongoing in the Florida court system, the mother, without a court order or any notice to the father, decided to move, relocating the child and herself from Florida to Michigan.

The father went to court to protest this unilateral decision regarding the child’s living arrangements. Eventually, the parents reached a mutual agreement, agreeing to leave the child in the mother’s custody pending the outcome of a mediation. They also agreed for the father to have one month of visitation during the summer, as well as a period of visitation during winter break. The agreement made it clear that, if the two parents could not reach a permanent agreement during the mediation, the father retained his rights to argue in court about the custody and timesharing issues.