Sometimes, the post-breakup circumstances between two parents are very contentious. Other times, the parents may decide to work collaboratively. The latter, of course, is generally the best for the child and the family as a whole, as is it more psychologically and emotionally healthy, and often less expensive, too.
Of course, as with anything — even a good thing like parental collaboration — there’s a right way to go about it and a wrong way. That’s true for working out collaborative agreements regarding the responsibilities for parenting your child. If you and your child’s other parent want to put down your mutual agreement in “black and white,” be sure that you have a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney by your side so that you know what your mutual agreement can and cannot do.
What do we mean by “can” versus “cannot” do? Look at a case from Broward County. Mom and Dad decided that their daughter, A.C., should go live with the father in Pasco County right away, and both parents signed a “private agreement” to that effect.
Later, the mother decided that the girl should remain with her in Broward County until the conclusion of the modification case that was pending in the courts. She filed a motion with a Broward County judge to have the child remain with her, but the judge rejected it. The judge concluded that she was bound to “uphold contracts” like the parents’ private agreement. As a result of that contract, the daughter was ordered to go live with the father in Pasco County.
‘Best interest of the child’ trumps any private agreement between parents
That ruling was incorrect. Florida law says that trial judges, in considering child support, parental responsibility and timesharing issues, are not bound by any contractual agreements made by the parents. The law places priority on the “best interest of the child.” That means that, under the law, the trial court must look at the evidence and make an independent determination as to what outcome is in the best interest of the child and make an order to put that outcome into effect, regardless of what the terms of the parents’ agreement was.
In this case, the evidence showed that the girl was doing well in school in Broward County, the judge stated that the child was “prospering” in Broward and that it was in her best interest to avoid “uprooting” her. The evidence also showed that the Guardian Ad Litem in the case recommended that the daughter remain with the mother in Broward. All of that evidence would seem to indicate that the child’s best interest was served by remaining in Broward County. If the totality of the evidence did point in that direction, then the trial court was required to order that the girl remain with mother, regardless of the terms of the parents’ contract.
Divorced parents working together to reach collaborative solutions to family law problems is laudable. However, before you do that, you need to be sure you know what the limitations are. Generally, contracts can do most anything. That’s not always true with family law issues, though, especially when it comes to child support, timesharing or parental responsibility.
To make that sure that the child custody agreement you’re contemplating is the right one, and is something entitled to enforcement by the courts, be certain to talk to the experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our attorneys have been providing thoughtful solutions and reliable advocacy in parental responsibility, timesharing and many other types of family law cases. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.