What It Takes to Prove That the Judge in Your Florida Child Custody Case Should Be Disqualified from Your Case

Although the precise origin is unknown, a proverb that dates back at least as far as the 1810s says that a lawyer who represents himself in a legal matter “has a fool for a client.” The moral of the proverb is that almost any legal representation will be stronger when provided by the dispassionate, completely objective perspective of a professional who is not a party to the case. That is especially true in family law cases, in which emotions often run high, and these feelings may cloud the judgment of the self-represented litigant. Whether you are an experienced attorney yourself or someone who admittedly knows nothing about the law, you certainly want the best for your family and your family law case, which is why you should take the beneficial step of hiring an experienced Florida child custody attorney to handle your case.

A North Florida case recently decided by the First District Court of Appeal illustrates the above truth in clear detail. The husband (a doctor) and the wife (a family law attorney) were married for just less than three years when the wife filed for divorce. The couple had one child together, a daughter. The trial court established a parenting plan in October 2015. Despite that court order in place, the mother frequently did not give the father his court-ordered visitation. In 2016 alone, the father missed a total of 12 weeks (84 days) of time with his daughter because the mother refused to follow the court’s instructions, according to the court.

The father asked the trial court to find the mother in contempt of court for failing to follow the parenting plan. At the hearing, the trial judge allegedly could not completely contain his frustration with the mother. According to the mother, he sighed loudly and shook his head during the hearing, interrupted the father’s lawyer so that he could question the mother himself, and openly commented on the mother’s testimony. At one point, with regard to the mother’s alleged willful non-compliance with the parenting plan, the judge stated, “You just do what you want.”

Based upon these alleged facts, the mother argued, all the way up to the Court of Appeal, that the judge was biased and should have been disqualified from ruling on her case. The appeals court ruled against the mother. The outcome of the appellate case was a fairly straightforward one. The appeals court acknowledged that trial judges should not allow themselves to make audible noises or expressive facial reactions while a witness is testifying. However, a judge’s sighs, head shakes, or eye rolls are not, by themselves, enough to show that the judge was impermissibly biased and that the offended party was entitled to a new hearing. This legal concept is fairly well-established in Florida. To have a valid argument for disqualification, you must provide clear proof of the judge’s lack of impartiality, which is more than just evidence that would stoke a party’s fear that the judge views her unfavorably. This is a fairly substantial evidentiary requirement.

Additionally, the “you just do what you want” comment was not adequate grounds for the disqualification of the judge either. The law gives trial judges the leeway to make comments that reflect their observations and impressions of the evidence and arguments presented to them. This judge’s “you just do what you want” comment reflected his assessment that the history of the mother’s conduct demonstrated that she paid no heed to the court order but instead simply did whatever she preferred. This was entirely relevant to the issue of whether or not she was in contempt of court.

Parenting plan issues can be challenging. Sometimes those challenges are legal. Sometimes they are emotional. Either way, it pays to have diligent, compassionate, and objective counsel advising you. The skilled South Florida child custody attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have been helping families navigate the Florida family law system for many years, providing excellent representation and thoughtful, personalized client attention. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Appeals Court Upholds 50-50 Timesharing for North Florida Parents of Six-Year-Old Despite Mom’s Vigorous Opposition, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 21, 2017

When Parental Alienation is Enough to Warrant a Timesharing Modification in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 26, 2016