‘Ultimate’ Decision-Making Authority and Florida Parental Responsibility Cases

Here in Florida, judges have a legally mandated way that they approach parental responsibility (i.e., child custody) cases. Shared parental responsibility (which some of you may know by the phrase “joint custody”) is the default position under Florida law. That means that, when a couple is litigating parental responsibility, the court will award shared parental responsibility unless there is evidence indicating a good reason why that would not be in the child’s best interest. These orders also may include directives from judge regarding which parent has “ultimate decision-making authority” (sometimes called “tiebreaking” authority) in each of a specific set of areas. In order to be sure you are able to be involved in a meaningful way in your child’s life and the guidance of your child, it can be very important to achieve a positive outcome in a case like this, which is why you should be sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney working for you.

A case from here in South Florida, which was recently decided by the Fourth District Court of Appeal, shows how the parental responsibility process is supposed to work. In the case, A.C. and K.S. were a couple with children who were going through divorce in Palm Beach County. The trial court ordered shared parental responsibility, because there was not evidence to indicate that shared responsibility wasn’t proper.

Of course, as with any circumstance of divorced parents, you have two people, which means you have the potential for a decision-making impasse. To alleviate the gridlock that these kinds of deadlocks could otherwise cause, the law allows the courts to award one parent “ultimate decision-making authority,” but Florida law does not allow a trial judge simply to say, “the parents shall share parental responsibility and ultimate decision-making authority, in the case of any deadlocks, goes to the mother.”

That is contrary to Florida law because the law in this state requires the judge to “delineate the ‘specific aspects of the child’s welfare’ over which the parent shall have ultimate responsibility.” In other words, the law requires the trial court to say, for example, “ultimate decision-making responsibility for medical, religious and educational matters to the mother, and ultimate decision-making responsibility for extracurricular activities to the father.”

In A.C. and K.S.’s case, the appeals court reversed the lower court and sent the case back to Palm Beach County. The problem was that the order stated that the mother held ultimate decision-making authority over all “major decisions.” The order also said that major decisions included, but were “not limited to decisions about the children’s education, healthcare, and other responsibilities unique to the family.” By including potentially open-ended wording like “including, but not limited to” and “other responsibilities,” the order failed to be sufficiently specific about exactly which areas the mother had tiebreaking authority. Without that specificity, the parenting plan didn’t comply with the law.

To ensure that you have the close and meaningful relationship with your child that you desire, it may be necessary to utilize the court system when it comes to reaching an outcome regarding parental responsibility. When that happens, talk to the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our attorneys have been providing clients with thoughtful advice and helpful results for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

How a Long-Distance Relocation Can Impact–and Require Modification of–Your Florida Parenting Plan, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 28, 2018

Shared Parental Responsibility Arrangement Meant Father Couldn’t Have Ultimate Decision Making Authority in All Areas, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2017