A recent case originating in Tallahassee provides a useful lesson in how a parent must go about presenting a case for a timesharing modification based upon parental alienation. The First District Court of Appeal upheld a trial judge’s refusal to modify a timesharing agreement because the father’s case was insufficient to demonstrate the sort of extreme, substantial, and unanticipated action required by the law to re-open the issue of timesharing. The court explained that this type of request sets up a very high hurdle for the parent seeking modification, and although the father’s allegations were “troubling” and demonstrated a contentious relationship between the parents, they weren’t enough.
The underlying set of facts was one unfortunately all too common in some post-divorce cases. Spouses with minor children divorce. One spouse gets a majority of timesharing. The other spouse believes that the first spouse is using their position to force them out of the child’s life, and back to court they go. In this case, the father was the parent returning to court, asking the judge to modify the family’s timesharing arrangement. He accused his ex-wife of refusing to communicate properly with him regarding the child and also seeking to alienate the child from him.
The trial court refused to modify the timesharing situation, and, after the father appealed, the appeals court upheld that trial court ruling. The reason the father lost was not so much that the courts did not believe that the factual allegations advanced by the father were true, but instead that the legal hurdle the father was required to clear in order to obtain the type of modification he sought was extraordinarily high, and he simply didn’t have enough of the right type of proof, even assuming all of the things he alleged were true.
The appeals court used this case to explain, in considerable detail, exactly how high a hurdle this type of action involves, and what a parent asking for this type of modification must present in order to succeed. The father was correct that parental alienation can be a valid basis for obtaining a modification to a timesharing arrangement. However, to win on such a claim, the parent must prove multiple things to the court. The parent must establish that the alienation was a substantial change in circumstances and that this change was not expected by the parents when they originally litigated the timesharing issue. In other words, no matter how bad your ex-spouse’s actions are currently, if they are no worse than they were when you were in court on the timesharing issue, or if they were not unexpected by you, the court likely won’t grant a modification.
This means offering the trial court something more than just facts related to how hostile, bitter, or poisoned the relationship between you and your ex-spouse has become. Simply bringing evidence of your “acrimonious relationship and a lack of effective communication” won’t suffice. Even if you have proof that your ex-spouse isn’t keeping you apprised of your child’s activities, that alone won’t be enough.
In this case, the father’s proof showed that he and his ex-wife had a “rancorous and hostile relationship.” If all of what the father alleged was true, the appeals court stated that it was “certainly troubling” but still wasn’t enough. In the past, successful cases have involved a parent who called the other parent degrading and obscene names and instructed the child not to obey the other parent, or a parent preventing the child from telephoning the other parent and making dubious claims of abuse by the other parent to authorities. None of the alleged actions that this mother had taken rose to that level of alienation.
Finally, the parent must also persuade the court that the change he seeks is in the best interest of the child. This high hurdle is necessary in order to prevent the possibility, in some families, of perpetual modification requests and to create a timesharing arrangement with a high degree of finality in order to foster beneficial stability for the child.
If you are involved in a custody, visitation, or timesharing dispute, you need capable and determined counsel on your side to help you protect your relationship with your child. The experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have handled numerous timesharing cases over the years and are ready to help your family. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
What Happens in Florida When an Emergency Changes Circumstances Surrounding Your Custody Arrangement, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 20, 2016
What it Takes to Seek a Timesharing Modification in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 27, 2016