Florida’s Supreme Court Clarifies the Rules for Modifications of Timesharing and Returning to the Pre-Modification Status Quo

There are lots of nuances about the law that skilled South Florida parental responsibility lawyers know keenly well but that laypeople aren’t familiar with. This can include very recent – and very important – changes in the law. A knowledgeable family law attorney can provide your case with the benefit that comes from a completely updated knowledge of the law and experience-based awareness of what those changes will mean to you.

The issue of timesharing was an example of one of those areas where a highly important change occurred recently. Until late April, certain types of timesharing cases could have radically different outcomes depending on where they were filed.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal, whose ruling impact Broward and Palm Beach counties, said that, if a trial court issued a modification that reduced a parent’s timesharing, then the order must include specific “concrete steps” that that parent could take to get his/her timesharing restored to where it was before the reduction.

The Third District, whose rulings apply to Miami-Dade County, said that, not only were trial courts not required to include those steps to unlocking a restoration of the previous timesharing status quo, but also that any such orders were impermissible because the Florida Statutes did not authorize trial judges to do that.

This meant that, if you were litigating a timesharing modification case in Palm Beach County and you succeeded in persuading the judge that the court should reduce your ex-spouse’s timesharing, you had to worry that your order would be vulnerable to reversal if the trial judge didn’t provide your ex with sufficiently specific keys to unlocking a restoration of his/her previous timesharing levels.

That concern no longer exists thanks to an April 29 Supreme Court decision. The Supreme Court’s opinion, at its most basic level, is a reaffirmation that the “overarching” standard that controls Section 61.13 (the timesharing statute) is the “best interest of the child.”

The Best Interest of the Child is of Paramount Importance

The high court, in siding with courts like the Third District, threw out the concrete steps requirement because it had the potential to conflict with the “best interest of the child” standard. The concrete steps obligation essentially hamstrung trial courts by establishing that a parent who had her timesharing reduced in a modification order was entitled to have that timesharing eventually restored to pre-modification levels.

That’s not what the law says. As the Supreme Court pointed out, “Depending on the circumstances, it might not be reasonable for a court to attempt to devise conditions that would lead to a restoration of the premodification status quo.” The “concrete steps” rule would require those conditions, regardless of whether or not including them was reasonable or was in the best interest of the child. As a result, the “concrete steps” requirement had to be discarded.

This ruling is very significant in that it brings clarity to a topic where there had been dramatic differences between the appeals courts, which meant potentially drastically different outcomes based solely on the county where the case was tried. Now, with this ruling, there is much greater uniformity across the state when it comes to modification orders that reduce a parent’s timesharing.

Your family law case needs several things. One of the biggest things is an advocate who is sensitive to your situation, who has a deep understanding of the facts of your circumstance, and who is profoundly knowledgeable in the law, including all of its recent changes. Rely on the experienced parental responsibility and timesharing attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. to provide that kind of diligent and effective advocacy to you and your family. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation today.