Florida Court Discusses Grounds for Disqualifying a Judge in a Custody Case

Religion is an important part of many people’s lives. As such, it makes sense that they would want to impart their religious beliefs to their children. In Florida, people typically have the right to raise their children in the religion of their choosing unless the courts determine that doing so would not be in the child’s best interest. As shown in an opinion recently delivered by a Florida court in a custody case, judges must make unbiased decisions about parental rights with regard to religion. Otherwise, their rulings may be overturned. If you have concerns about protecting your right to parent your child, it is in your best interest to meet with a Miami child custody attorney.

History of the Case

It is reported that the father, who, as a Christian minister and youth pastor, opposed gender transition for his minor child based on moral and religious grounds. The child had been removed from the mother’s custody due to her substance abuse issues but was later reunited with her. However, after the child ran away from the mother due to abuse and excessive drinking, the child moved in with the father, who refused any gender transition treatment for the child.

It is alleged that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) sought to remove the child from both parents’ custody, alleging emotional abuse by the father for opposing gender transition. Despite no findings of abuse against the father, the trial judge removed the child from his custody, prompting the father to file a motion to return the child to his custody. However, the trial judge’s conduct during an in-camera interview with the child, including using female pseudonyms and suggesting counseling to change the father’s beliefs, raised concerns about bias against the father’s religious views. The father then filed a petition to disqualify the trial judge, arguing that the judge demonstrated bias that bias prevented him from receiving a fair hearing.

Grounds for Disqualifying a Judge

The court analyzed the father’s petition to disqualify the trial judge, applying the standard of whether the father reasonably feared he would not receive a fair hearing due to the judge’s bias. The court emphasized the fundamental parental right to direct a child’s upbringing, including moral and religious training, rooted in common law and statutory provisions.

Further, the court noted the trial judge’s actions, including referring to the child by female pseudonyms and suggesting counseling to change the father’s beliefs, as indicative of bias against the father’s position. These actions, the court concluded, signaled a predisposition against the father’s case, violating the principle of judicial impartiality. Therefore, the court granted the father’s petition for a writ of prohibition, quashed the trial judge’s order, and directed the case to proceed before a different trial judge to ensure a fair hearing for the father.

Meet with a Seasoned Miami Attorney

Parents generally have the right to raise their children as they see fit, which includes providing religious education, and the courts will generally not take a child out of a parent’s custody unless the parent is causing harm to the child. If you need help protecting your parental rights, it would benefit you to meet with an attorney promptly. The seasoned Miami child custody lawyers of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. can evaluate your case and aid you in seeking your desired outcome. You can reach us at 800-596-0579 or use the form online to set up a meeting.