When Your Florida Timesharing Dispute Can (and Cannot) Allow You to Recoup from Your Ex-Spouse the Cost of Your Attorney’s Fees

Ideally, divorced parents are able to work together in a collaborative and cooperative fashion to meet the needs of their child when it comes to things like timesharing. Sometimes, though, that doesn’t happen. In some families, the issues of custody and timesharing can be matters of intense disagreement. Whether you need advice or in-court representation (or both) regarding timesharing issues, you should make sure you retain an experienced Florida child custody attorney.

One recent timesharing case that involved a definite lack of cooperation was the dispute between Reva and Hunter, whose situation fit into that “intense disagreement” category. The depth of their disagreement went all the way down to disagreeing about the exact hour when holiday timesharing exchanges should take place. One spring break, that disagreement boiled over. “Threats were made, texts exchanged, and the police were called,” as the court summarized it.

Of course, that also brought the parents back into court on the timesharing issue. The mother asked the trial court to hold the father in contempt of court. Instead, the trial judge concluded that the mother’s interpretation of the timesharing agreement was not reasonable and that the father was entitled a payment of his attorney’s fees by the mother.

The court resolved the timesharing dispute by indicating that “Spring Break” covered the entire time from the dismissal of school on Friday until class resumed on Monday. Similarly, Thanksgiving Break spanned from the dismissal of class on Wednesday until school resumed the following Monday. (The appeals court did not indicate how the mother interpreted Spring Break and Thanksgiving Break, but clearly her interpretation gave the father some lesser amount of time.)

The main focus of the appeals court was the mother’s challenge of the award of attorney’s fees. The court explained that, in Florida, trial judges can order one party to pay an opposing party’s attorney’s fees if that party’s conduct was egregious or in bad faith. An award of attorney’s fees is reserved for only the most extreme misconduct, and the paying party must have behaved in a way that was vexatious, wanton, or oppressive.

When a judge orders the payment of attorney’s fees under this rationale, the law does not require the judge to make any findings regarding either spouse’s financial need or ability to pay. The respective parties’ financial conditions do not determine the outcome. The law does, however, demand that the judge make findings that explain the conduct that constituted bad faith and triggered eligibility for an award of attorney’s fees. These findings must be very specific and must connect the bad-faith conduct with the other party’s expenditure of attorney’s fees.

In Reva and Hunter’s case, the trial court simply stated that, based upon “its inherent authority to award attorney’s fees, [the court] finds that the [father] is entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees.” That finding was not specific enough to meet the law’s requirements. In an award of attorney’s fees situation, there are certain procedural requirements that must be met. They weren’t met in this circumstance, so the father wasn’t entitled to the fees award.

Wherever you are in the child custody and timesharing determination process, count on the experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. to provide you with the representation you need. Our attorneys have been helping our clients and their families pursue helpful outcomes in parenting plans and related issues for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

An Out-of-State Move and Your Florida Child Custody and Timesharing Arrangement, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 19, 2018

Custody, Timesharing, and the Holidays in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 22, 2017