How to Obtain a Custody Modification in Florida

The implementation of a parenting plan hopefully represents the culmination of a collaborative process to create an outcome in the best interests of the children involved. Sometimes, though, circumstances change, and those changes may trigger the need for a modification of the plan. When they do, the Florida Statutes have some specific requirements regarding what must be established in order to modify a custody arrangement, especially if that modification involves stripping one parent of all decision-making authority.

A recent example of this in the 5th District Court of Appeal was the custody dispute between two parents. The couple married in 1993, but after a decade and a half of marriage, the husband filed for divorce. The couple’s 2009 marital settlement agreement called for a fairly common custody arrangement, with the mother getting primary physical custody, the father getting visitation, and the parents agreeing to share “parental responsibility on all aspects of the children’s lives.” The agreement also called for the father to pay child support.

Early the next year, a fight allegedly occurred between the parents that resulted in the state filing criminal battery charges against the wife. As a result of the wife’s attack on the husband, he sought a modification in the custody and child support order. Under the new terms, the father would obtain full custody, including sole decision-making authority, his child support obligation would be terminated, and the mother would receive visitation and would become obligated to pay child support. The trial court granted this request, concluding that it was in the best interests of the children.

The appeals court reversed the ruling and sent the case back to the trial court for more consideration. The problem with the trial court’s order was a very specific flaw related to the statute that governs child custody. Section 61.13 of the Florida Statutes expressly states that the parental responsibility for a minor child should be shared by both of that child’s parents unless one parent shows, and the trial court finds, that shared parental responsibility would “be detrimental to the child.”

The father in this case put forward evidence, which the trial found persuasive, that the mother’s attack on the father was a significant change of circumstances. That finding was necessary to make any modification to the custody arrangement at all. The trial court did not, however, ever make an explicit finding that allowing the mother to share in the decision-making process would be detrimental to the couple’s two children. Without that finding, the trial court could not award sole parental responsibility to the father.

Any time a child custody issue must be decided, or revisited, the matter can be fraught with many difficulties, including tense emotions, complicated logistics, and statutory or procedural requirements. To make sure that you are prepared to deal with your child custody dispute, get in touch with the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our attorneys have the determination you need to make sure that your case is presented in a compelling fashion and meets all of the law’s procedural demands.

Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule a confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Mother Declared in Contempt for Impeding Sons’ Relationship with Father, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 3, 2014
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