Articles Posted in Custody/Time-Sharing

Many times, people may associate legal phrases like “due process of law” with criminal cases. The reality is, though, that all parties in criminal and civil cases are entitled to due process of law. Part of this due process protection says that a court generally cannot take action against you without proper notice and a chance for you to be heard. To make sure that all of your rights, including your constitutional rights, are protected in your case, be sure you have a skilled Florida child custody attorney on your side.

One recent family law case in which this issue of due process played a key role in the outcome was a matter that involved a long-distance family dynamic and some allegedly dysfunctional relationships. The father lived in southwest Florida, while the mother lived in Indiana. The Florida courts had jurisdiction over the issue of timesharing. Problems allegedly began emerging, and, in early 2017, the mother decided to take legal action. According to the mother, the father was taking improper steps to alienate the children from her. The “extreme” alienation allegedly included the father’s urging the children not to obey the mother and his making “hateful, inflammatory, outrageous and false allegations” about the mother in his social media posts.

In a situation like this, there are two types of rulings by the judge that the mother could seek. Normally, a modification of timesharing would only take place after the court gave both sides notice of a hearing, allowed both sides to attend the hearing, and heard both sides’ proof. In “emergency” situations, though, a court can take action without going through these steps. That’s what happened in this case. The mother requested emergency relief during the mid-morning of Feb. 8, 2017. The father’s former attorney found out about the hearing in the 3 o’clock hour that afternoon, but he no longer represented the father. At 10:30 the next morning, the hearing went forward without the father or any legal counsel representing him. The judge ordered the suspension of the father’s timesharing, cut off all contact between the father and the children, and ordered the father to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Although the precise origin is unknown, a proverb that dates back at least as far as the 1810s says that a lawyer who represents himself in a legal matter “has a fool for a client.” The moral of the proverb is that almost any legal representation will be stronger when provided by the dispassionate, completely objective perspective of a professional who is not a party to the case. That is especially true in family law cases, in which emotions often run high, and these feelings may cloud the judgment of the self-represented litigant. Whether you are an experienced attorney yourself or someone who admittedly knows nothing about the law, you certainly want the best for your family and your family law case, which is why you should take the beneficial step of hiring an experienced Florida child custody attorney to handle your case.

A North Florida case recently decided by the First District Court of Appeal illustrates the above truth in clear detail. The husband (a doctor) and the wife (a family law attorney) were married for just less than three years when the wife filed for divorce. The couple had one child together, a daughter. The trial court established a parenting plan in October 2015. Despite that court order in place, the mother frequently did not give the father his court-ordered visitation. In 2016 alone, the father missed a total of 12 weeks (84 days) of time with his daughter because the mother refused to follow the court’s instructions, according to the court.

The father asked the trial court to find the mother in contempt of court for failing to follow the parenting plan. At the hearing, the trial judge allegedly could not completely contain his frustration with the mother. According to the mother, he sighed loudly and shook his head during the hearing, interrupted the father’s lawyer so that he could question the mother himself, and openly commented on the mother’s testimony. At one point, with regard to the mother’s alleged willful non-compliance with the parenting plan, the judge stated, “You just do what you want.”

In recent years, one of the more hotly debated issues for many people is vaccines. Since a large portion of the people who receive vaccinations are underage children, the question of whether to vaccinate or not to vaccinate can be a contentious one if a child’s parents do not agree. Sometimes, these disagreements spill over into the legal system, as was the case recently with one family from Michigan, as reported by the Washington Post. Whether or not you can use the courts to force your ex to get your child vaccinated may depend on the specific facts of your case. As a Florida parent, if you have concerns about this or any other type of vital medical decision-making element of your child custody arrangement, it is important to contact an experienced Florida child custody attorney promptly.

Many anti-vaccination individuals believe that vaccines are of questionable effectiveness and may be the source of various ailments ranging from bowel disease to autism. Vaccine proponents believe that vaccines are safe, effective, and not only an important part of good health for the recipient but also beneficial to the community at large due to something called “herd immunity.” The recent rise in vaccine opponents, vaccination proponents argue, has led to the increased occurrence of many diseases (including the re-emergence of some nearly extinct diseases), like measles, mumps, whopping cough, scarlet fever, and polio.

Thus, do you have to vaccinate your child if you desire not to vaccinate them, or, alternatively, can you get a court order that requires your ex to get your child vaccinated even if that is against the other parent’s wishes? Like many things in the law, the answer is, “It depends.”

If you have gone through the family court system, the chances are that you may have experienced stress or anxiety in anticipation of your hearing. What if my hearing doesn’t go well? What if the court’s ruling isn’t the outcome my family needs? These feelings are all normal and examples of why it helps to have an experienced attorney on your side. Perhaps you think you can’t afford an attorney. What you should do if you have such concerns is never simply assume, but instead get information first and then make an educated decision about your ability to afford representation. You may find that your options for retaining a skilled Florida child custody attorney could be greater than you might think.

A recent case from Oklahoma that made news headlines recently offered a bizarre example of what not to do in this type of situation. A mom who lived just west of Oklahoma City had a custody hearing approaching soon. She didn’t have an attorney, thinking that she couldn’t afford one. Apparently she was worried that, without counsel, her case would end badly. The mother’s current boyfriend (who was not the father in the custody dispute) decided to try to help his girlfriend. He, in an ill-advised move, phoned in a bomb threat to the courthouse. He thought, according to what he told investigators, that the bomb threat would cause a delay in the case and give his girlfriend some extra time to address her situation, according to KFOR.

For his efforts, the boyfriend received criminal charges and the prospect of a long prison sentence of 3-10 years. News reports did not indicate that the mother participated in, or knew about, the boyfriend’s bomb threat plan, but if she did, her participation could have a negative impact on her court case and her custody arrangement with her kids.

There are several things you should assess before you decide to go to court seeking a modification of a divorce judgment or alimony, child custody/timesharing, child support, or other family law-related court order. First, you have to “have a case,” meaning that the facts of your case must indicate that the law is potentially on your side. Second, you have to be entitled by the law to bring your case in the place where you want to file (which is known as “jurisdiction”). If you don’t have these things, you likely won’t be able to achieve the outcome you want. An experienced Florida child custody attorney can help you make these types of analyses and determine a path forward for you and your family.

The issue of jurisdiction can potentially trip up litigants because it involves a more technical understanding of legal and procedural intricacies. Take, as an example, the case of Clifton, who lived in Jacksonville. Some years earlier, Clifton had married Elizabeth, and the couple had three children. The couple later divorced, and a New York court entered the divorce order terminating the marriage. The couple agreed that the mother would be the primary residential parent and that the father would pay child support until the children turned age 21.

As happens for a lot of families, things evolved over time. The two older children had each turned 18, and one of them had moved in with the father in Florida. The mother and the other two children lived in Georgia.

It is once again fast approaching the “Holiday Season” time of year. For many people, especially those with children, that can mean hosting family from out of town or making travel arrangements to visit faraway relatives. For some families, though, the holidays are more complicated. For divorced parents with minor children, reaching a workable solution for the holidays can be challenging and, sometimes, may even require the involvement of the courts, as one recent South Florida case exemplified. If your holiday visitation situation has become so complex that it seems like it may require litigation, you should make sure you have skilled Florida child custody counsel on your side.

One important thing to remember if you are going through a paternity case or a divorce case is that Florida law clearly states that both parents should receive shared parental responsibility unless the judge makes a finding “that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.” In the majority of cases, the judge is not going to make such a finding and is going to order shared parental responsibility for the child.

Additionally, courts have wide latitude when it comes to timesharing orders. A court can even order that one parent receive no visitation with a child. However, that occurs only in a small fraction of cases. In the large majority in which visitation is awarded, the non-custodial parent has certain rights when it comes to getting the children (or child) over the holidays.

In any divorce or child custody case, one of the most important preliminary decisions that must be made is choosing where to file the action. If you attempt to bring your case in a court that does not have what’s called “jurisdiction,” you may face many possible negative outcomes, including not having your case heard (and having it thrown out instead) or having your successful outcome reversed on appeal. Either way, you won’t get the relief you need if the court doesn’t have jurisdiction. When the time comes to choose the right court to pursue your case, talk to a knowledgeable Florida child custody attorney who can help you make the right selection.

An example of how this process can go wrong played out recently in a Second District Court of Appeal case. Rahul, a commercial airline pilot, and a husband and father of three, filed for divorce in Collier County in southwest Florida. Whenever you file for divorce, you have to make certain declarations in your petition in order to establish that the court has jurisdiction. One of these is that you have lived here for at least six months, which would make you a Florida resident for the purposes of a divorce.

The husband made such a declaration in his case. The wife, in her response, “admitted” everything in the husband’s petition, meaning that she acknowledged as correct all of the points in the husband’s filing, including the item of residency. She also consented to the entry of a marital settlement agreement and parenting plan that the couple had previously worked out.

One of the more recent issues in family law with which the courts in the various states have wrestled is the matter of grandparent visitation. In Florida, the law as announced by the Florida Supreme Court is relatively clear:  the state Constitution’s right to privacy includes a parent’s right to raise his or her child as the parent sees fit, and that means that the courts generally cannot order that grandparents receive visitation over a parent’s objection. As with almost any aspect of the area, there are a few exceptions, though, one of which was on display in a case that went before the state’s Supreme Court recently. Whether you’re a parent or a grandparent involved in a visitation dispute, an experienced Florida child custody attorney can go over with you the limits of grandparents’ rights and how Florida law would apply to your case.

In general, a parent has a very strong right to privacy when it comes to child-rearing under the Florida Constitution. Specifically, Article I, Section 23 of the Constitution says that every “natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein.” The Supreme Court has consistently interpreted this section to mean that forced grandparent visitation is unconstitutional and against public policy. A judge telling a parent that he or she must allow his or her child to have visitation with a grandparent is exactly the sort of government intrusion into private life that Section 23 bars, according to the court.

There are a couple of ways a grandparent might be able to obtain a court order of visitation, but they are very narrow. One is if the family was involved in visitation litigation in another state that allows enforced grandparent visitation, and a court of that state entered a valid order that required the parent(s) to allow visitation with the grandparent(s). There are very few things that can trump the Florida Constitution, but one of them is the U.S. Constitution.

With same-sex marriage having been legally recognized in Florida for just over two years now, the legal system in this state will, inevitably, see an increase in family law cases with same-sex spouses and same-sex parents. Sometimes, South Florida family law cases involving same-sex partners may present unique issues. Other times, though, same-sex couples will find that their cases will be decided by the same things that influence cases with opposite-sex partners. That was the case recently for two married men, one of whom had their Florida case scuttled by the legal concept of forum non conveniens.

The couple, Marco and Han, entered into a civil partnership in the United Kingdom in 2008. That was converted into a marriage in the U.K. in 2015. Marco had dual citizenship in Italy and the U.K. Han had dual citizenship in Malaysia and the U.K. The couple shared one child, a daughter who was born in Missouri in 2014. A Missouri court gave Marco sole custody of the child.

For just less than one year, from 2014 to 2015, the family lived in Miami, residing in a friend’s apartment. Han moved back to London in the fall of 2015 and never returned to Florida. Marco and the daughter moved to New York in the following March, where they stayed. Marco filed for divorce in London in April 2016. Han filed for divorce here in South Florida a month later.

In a recent child custody and timesharing case, the mother, who had lost in the trial court, lost again on appeal. The First District Court of Appeal did not conclude that the mother was blatantly or egregiously wrong in her arguments; instead, the appeals court simply concluded that the mother did not prove that the trial judge abused his discretion, so the appeals court had no basis for reversing the lower court’s ruling. The outcome in this matter highlights an important truth about any Florida family law matter, which is the difficulty appellants often face in winning on appeal and, as a related element, the importance of making your strongest possible presentation in the trial court.

The spouses, Kemberly and Mark, were a Union County couple who were in a situation that faces many married couples:  they were divorcing. What’s more, they were going through divorce not just as spouses but as parents of a six-year-old daughter. Also like many couples, the parents couldn’t agree on the issue of custody and timesharing, so they litigated that matter before a judge.

At the custody trial, the wife presented evidence that she was the one who had served as the daughter’s primary caregiver during the couple’s separation, which had gone on for a considerable length of time. The mother allegedly was also the parent who always took the child to school during the marriage. Based upon these and other factors, the mother argued that she should receive a majority of the time in any custody and timesharing order.