Florida Court Discusses Technological Problems in the Context of Family Law Cases

The spread of COVID-19 altered the landscape of family law hearings. Specifically, many hearings are held remotely, and the parties use platforms like Zoom to participate. While remote hearings provide a safe and convenient means for courts to resolve issues, technological problems can inadvertently impair people’s rights. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida case in which a father was disconnected during a remote hearing, and his parental rights were terminated. If you have questions regarding your duties and privileges as a parent, it is in your best interest to speak to a Miami child custody attorney.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the trial court scheduled a hearing to address the issue of whether the father’s parental rights should be terminated.  At the time of the hearing, the father was incarcerated. Although he initially refused to appear, he ultimately did by telephone. Before the hearing began, the court placed the father and his attorney in a separate virtual room so that they could communicate confidentially.

Allegedly, the attorney directed the father to stay online and advised him that he would be brought back into the virtual courtroom. The father reportedly expressed that he wished to proceed via video rather than telephone. He was disconnected before the hearing began, however, and never rejoined via telephone or video. It is disputed whether his absence was voluntary or the result of technical issues. Notwithstanding, the trial court proceeded with the hearing over the objection of the father’s attorney. In light of the father’s absence, the Department of Children and Families moved for a default judgment. The court denied the motion and conducted the hearing but ultimately terminated the father’s parental rights regardless. The father appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in conducting the hearing after he was connected.

Technological Problems in the Context of Family Law Cases

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s termination of the father’s parental rights on appeal.  In doing so, the court opined as to the proper method to challenge an order when there were technical difficulties. Specifically, the court stated a party should seek relief via a motion to vacate due to excusable neglect. The court should then hold a limited evidentiary inquiry to determine whether such a disconnection was voluntary or due to circumstances beyond the movant’s control.

Meet with a Trusted Miami Child Custody Attorney

Parents have the right to voice their concerns during custody hearings, but if they refuse to participate or encounter technological issues, their rights may be waived. If you have concerns regarding your parental rights and obligations, it is advisable to meet with an attorney as soon as possible. The trusted Miami child custody attorneys of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A., can inform you of your options for protecting your interests, and if you hire us, we will work tirelessly on your behalf.  Our office is in Aventura, and we regularly represent parties in family law cases in Miami. You can contact us through our online form or at 800-596-0579 to set up a conference.