As a certain popular television show illustrates, the “modern family” comes in many diverse versions. With more families who are not like the Cleavers of Leave it to Beaver fame, there are more situations when a person prominently involved in the care of a child may not have a biological relationship to that child. A recent case from North Florida brought this scenario front and center, as the 1st District Court of Appeal issued a ruling highlighting the legal rule that says, when a natural parent and a non-parent are locked in a custody dispute, the courts must look beyond just the “best interests of the child.”
The recent case involved a couple from the greater Jacksonville area, Lisa Corona and David Harris. When the couple split up in November 2012, both of the two children who lived with them went with Harris. The couple eventually went to court to address timesharing and child support issues. The trial court gave Harris the majority of timesharing, with Corona receiving the children a fraction of the time.
The trial court made its ruling based upon the best interests of the children, noting that Corona had made little contact and shown limited involvement with the children since the couple’s split in 2012.
The mother appealed and was successful. While Harris had co-parented both children during his relationship with Corona, and he had undertaken sole responsibility for both children since the couple’s separation, only the younger child was biologically and legally his.
With regard to the older child, Harris was not the child’s biological father. In cases like this, when a court must resolve a timesharing contest between a “natural parent” and a “third party,” even a third party as closely involved in the child’s life as Harris was here, the court must consider more than just what is in the best interest of the child. In these situations, the law demands that trial courts consider first whether “remaining with the natural parent would be a detriment to the child.” Only if the court finds the existence of such a detriment can the court proceed to assess the best interests of the child.
In reaching this outcome, the court followed the same reasoning as the 3d DCA used last year in ruling in favor of a mother in her custody dispute with the child’s step-mother. In that case, originating in Miami-Dade County, the court ruled that “a trial court cannot engage in a ‘best interests of the child’ analysis unless and until there is sufficient proof to establish parental unfitness or substantial threat of significant and demonstrable harm to the child.”
Timesharing disputes can be filled with complex and sometimes uncertain considerations, but there are some legal rules that remain relatively firm, such as the rights of a natural parent. Knowing the extent of your rights is essential to understanding your options. If you are facing a custody or timesharing dispute, talk to the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our diligent and zealous attorneys can provide you with helpful answers and skilled representation to assist you with your case.
Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule a confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Florida Court Upholds Enforcement of Colorado Order Granting Visitation to Grandparents, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 7, 2015
Mother and Child Reunion Put on Hold After Court Decides to Hear More Evidence Regarding Best Interest of Child, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 24, 2014