For many parents, events in their lives may trigger within them a desire to reconnect with the children from whom they’ve become distant. Depending on the perspective of the child’s other parent, this may not always be easy. A recent case originating in Palm Beach County is a useful reminder to all Florida parents that, even if your desire to forge a closer relationship is strong, you cannot demand a change in your timesharing based solely upon proving that you’ve gotten your life in order. Simply getting your life back on track doesn’t amount to the sort of change in circumstances recognized by Florida law that would allow a court to change your timesharing schedule, according to a Fourth District Court of Appeals ruling.
The case, which involved ex-spouses C.R. (father) and S.R. (mother), was based on a complicated, although not entirely uncommon, set of facts. The husband and wife had one minor child together when they divorced in 2008. As part of that divorce judgment, the court ordered shared parental responsibility with the mother as the primary residential parent. The father had visitation twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Despite these twice-weekly opportunities, the father’s visits dwindled dramatically. According to the mother, he visited his daughter a grand total of 22 times during the years of 2011-13. The mother stated that she did not even have a valid phone number for the father until, in 2013, she filed a motion with the trial court asking the judge to hold the father in contempt and jail him for failing to pay his child support obligation. After the mother made this request, the father went to court seeking a modification of his child support and the timesharing schedule. He contended that, since fathering a new child, he felt motivated to be an active father both to his new child and the child he shared with Meyers. He also asked the court to reduce his child support amount, alleging that he had changed jobs and his income was now lower. The mother contended that the father’s lack of visitation had left him and the daughter “estranged,” making a 50-50 timesharing arrangement not in the child’s best interest.
The trial court granted the father’s requests, concluding that the father had stabilized his life and that this lifestyle change amounted to a “significant change” in his circumstances. The mother appealed, and the trial court’s ruling was overturned. The reason the lower court ruling in favor of the father did not survive was the issue of what constitutes a “significant change in circumstances.” In order for a change in circumstances to create an opportunity to modify timesharing, the parent requesting the change must prove that the change was substantial, material, and unexpected by the parents. The parent must also show that the change is in the child’s best interest.
This case contained two major weaknesses. First, the changes that had occurred in the father’s life were not the kind that trigger a re-opening of the timesharing schedule. For parents who, in the past, have led unhealthy or chaotic existences, simply getting one’s life in order does not open the door to a modification of timesharing. Specifically, the appeals court’s opinion instructed that the “fact that the father now has a relatively stable home environment is, in and of itself, inadequate to constitute a substantial change in circumstances.” Furthermore, the father never established that the change would be in the daughter’s best interest. He did argue to the trial court that the child “needs a father,” but he did not offer substantial and specific proof of how the proposed new timesharing schedule would be in the girl’s best interest.
Dealing with the shared custody of a child after a divorce can be complicated. Whether you are seeking to have a more active role in your child’s life or to protect your child from changes you believe would be unhealthy, the hardworking South Florida parenting plan attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. can help. Our attorneys have extensive experience helping a wide array of families across South Florida work to achieve outcomes that serve the best interest of the children. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Governor’s Veto Kills Florida Alimony Reform Bill, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 18, 2016
Florida Parenting Plan Disputes and Helping Parents Get a Chance to be Heard in Court, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 18, 2015