Articles Posted in Child Custody

Child support is essentially a payment from the higher income parent to the lower income parent.  Child support and timesharing have an interesting relationship.  The law values the child and parent relationship.  A parent’s right to timesharing is not dependent upon being current in child support.  It is a frequent mistake among individuals to assume that timesharing can be denied if an Obligor parent fails to keep up with his or her child support.  Such has no such relationship to Florida law.

Another misconception is that child support must go to the child specifically.  However, it is a general purpose reimbursement which covers the cost of living in a household with children.  The amount of child support paid by each parent is dependent upon the amount the Florida child support guidelines determine.  The number of overnights the child or children spend with each parent is one of the factors used to decide a parent’s child support under Florida’s guidelines.  There is a chart that is published within the Florida Statutes that shows the amount of child support a child is entitled to.

Florida law requires that generally, where there are minor children then child support should be paid.  The principle behind this general rule is that entitlement to support belongs to the children and parents cannot decide not to pay support.  There are situations in which a parent does not have a child support obligation.  In Florida, this must either be because the amount of support owed is very minimal, as determined by the guidelines, or the specific reasons must be enumerated in the child support order.  The law allows up to a 5% deviation from the guidelines without further enumeration.  Florida has a form known as a Child Support Guideline Worksheet which is required to be filed in every divorce and paternity case where child support is determined.  The guidelines account for some of the specific costs of supporting a child, such as health insurance and uncovered medical expenses.  As long as a parent is awarded at least 20 percent of the overnights, overnights are a specific factor used to determine a parent’s support.  Items like rent, electricity, water, and food are essential items that are not specifically accounted for in the guidelines.  Other items that are specifically accounted for under the guidelines are taxes, daycare, and medical costs.

Unwed fathers may believe that it is unlikely or impossible to gain custody of their child when they were never married to the child’s mother.  Fathers with this attitude should think again, as the courts and society have realized that fathers can be every bit as responsible as mothers in rearing a child.  The court system may still have a few vestiges of what was known as “The tender years doctrine”.  Such is the idea that a young child should primarily be cared for by their mother.  However, most judges today that I have encountered no longer display any indication that this philosophy still exists.  The reality is that a caring father can be every bit as nurturing and responsible as a caring mother.

In Florida, paternity is established by filing an action in the Circuit Court.  The action is known as a paternity action.  The petition should be titled a Petition for Paternity and Related Relief or a similar name.  There is no legal presumption for or against a father obtaining what used to be called primary custody.  The court’s have changed from using the term custody to using the term timesharing.  It is supposed to promote the idea of the children being shared between parents.  I personally do not believe that much has changed because of the change in terminology.  That said, the law has changed regarding child support in that the non primary residential parent (the parent that has minority timesharing) can now receive a reduction in child support if he or she has the child for at least 20 percent of the overnights.  The prior rule required the non majority parent to exercise at least 40 percent of the overnights to get a reduction in child support.

In a paternity suit, a father attempting to obtain timesharing must request either shared parental responsibility or sole parental responsibility.  Sole parental responsibility is exactly what it sounds like and so is shared parental responsibility.  Even people with serious criminal histories frequently are awarded shared parental responsibility.  Florida has enumerated the factors that it considers important and that a judge must take into account in deciding custody issues between parents.  They can be found in Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes.  In short, they equate to the best interests of the child.

Can Child Custody be modified because of COVID-19?

What temporary and permanent changes are inevitable?

With the outbreak of the Coronavirus, life has changed.  Some changes are temporary, and some may be permanent.  Almost every American’s travel plans have been affected by limitations placed on travel, shopping, and many other aspects of our lives.  In addition to all of life’s other complications, many of us share custody of children.  I have been practicing in the area of family law in North Florida for over 17 years.  A thorough parenting plan will account for numerous contingencies.  To date, I have yet to see a parenting plan that addresses custodial complications parents are likely to experience during the current pandemic.  I find that the two most litigated issues in family law are:

SHOULD CHILDREN BE PERMITTED TO TESTIFY IN A CUSTODY CASE?

One of the most common questions we get is if children can or should be allowed to testify in a divorce or child custody case. Self-represented litigants in Florida occasionally come to court with a child in anticipation that the child will testify for them.  However, there are specific prerequisites that must be followed under the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure before a party is permitted to bring a child to court to testify. Often clients ask “At what age can my child testify in a Florida divorce case?’ Why maturity can be an issue, age itself is not the main factor use to determine if a child can testify in a divorce case.  It is not prudent for a party to bring a child to court unless authorized previously by court order.  Florida Family Law Rule of Procedure 12.407 applies to the testimony of children in Family Law Cases.  It reads as follows:

(a) Prohibition. Unless otherwise provided by law or another rule of procedure, children who are witnesses, potential witnesses, or related to a family law case, are prohibited from being deposed or brought to a deposition, from being Family Law Rules of Procedure August 28, 2019 99 subpoenaed to appear at any family law proceeding, or from attending any family law proceedings without prior order of the court based on good cause shown.

(b) Related Proceedings. In a family law proceeding held concurrently with a proceeding governed by the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure, the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure govern as to the child’s appearance in court.

(c) Uncontested Adoption. This rule does not apply to uncontested adoption proceedings.  Florida Family Rules of Procedure 12.407.

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In Florida, can a divorced or single parent move with or without their child?

If you have made arrangements to move with your child without being sure you are acting legally, think again.   The ramifications of relocating with your child without approval from the other parent or the court are potentially hazardous.  A Court could hold you in contempt of Court or make you move back to your old location with the children, or worse, give up custody to the other parent.

“Relocation” means a change in the location of the principal residence of a parent or other person from his or her principal place of residence at the time of the last order establishing or modifying time-sharing, or at the time of filing the pending action to establish or modify time-sharing. The change of location must be at least 50 miles from that residence, and for at least 60 consecutive days not including a temporary absence from the principal residence for purposes of vacation, education, or the provision of health care for the child.

In Florida, divorces with children involved primarily focus on the parenting plan first.  The parenting plan determines numerous factors in raising your children and will be the document most referred to after the divorce is finalized.  It is important that the plan is tailored to you and your children and accounts for the best interest of the children.  Before filing for divorce, you should consider whether you would like to request one of the following:

  • Shared Parental Responsibility: Both parents confer and jointly make all major decisions affecting the welfare of the children, such as education, healthcare, etc.
  • Shared Parental Responsibility with Decision Making Authority: Both parents attempt to agree on major decisions, but one parent will have the ultimate decision-making authority.

In Simmonds v. Perkins, No. SC17-1963 (Fla. 2018), the Florida Supreme Court decided to take up the question of whether a biological father is entitled to rebut the common law presumption that the mother’s husband is the legal father of a child born to an intact marriage, where the mother or her husband object to allowing such rebuttal.  The Court held that the biological father may rebut the presumption of legitimacy when he has “manifested a substantial and continuing concern” for the welfare of the child.  The presumption of legitimacy may be overcome by a “clear and compelling reason based primarily on the child’s best interests.”

fatherThis case involved the child’s mother, Treneka Simmonds, and biological father, Connor Perkins, and their daughter.  When Perkins and Simmonds were together, Perkins was never told Simmonds was married to a man named Shaquan Ferguson.  When Perkins did find out Simmonds was married, she told him she was married for “immigration purposes” and was going to get a divorce.  Perkins was there when the child was born, taken the child to the doctor, enrolled the child in daycare, and even had sole physical custody for awhile.  The child called him “daddy.”  Perkins’ mother is also known as her grandmother.

Perkins decided to file a petition to determine paternity, timesharing, and child support.  Simmonds moved to dismiss the action based on it being barred by the common law presumption of legitimacy because Simmonds was married to Ferguson.  Perkins then added Ferguson as an additional party, amended his petition to seek disestablishment of Ferguson’s paternity, and alleged it would be in the child’s best interests for him to be recognized as her legal father.  Ferguson also moved to dismiss under common law.  The trial court dismissed Perkins’ petition because of previous Fourth District precedent stating that the putative father cannot seek paternity when the child was born in an intact marriage and the married woman and her husband object.

In 2016, Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt after he got into an altercation with his son Maddox on a plane that resulted in an FBI investigation.  You may have heard about the custody battle with their six children that has ensued.  Recently, a judge apparently ordered “new restrictions” regarding Angelina’s participation in how Brad interacts with the children.

Child custodyThe Judge wrote, “[The children] not having a relationship with their father is harmful to them.  It is critical that each of them have a healthy and strong relationship with their father and mother.”  The Judge also state, “If the minor children remain closed down to their father and depending on the circumstances surrounding this condition, it may result in a reduction of the time they spend with [Jolie] and may result in the Court ordering primary physical custody to [Pitt].”  The Judge created a visitation schedule for Brad to see his children over the summer with the children continuing to receive therapy.

It seems the Judge is trying to prevent parental alienation.  Parental alienation is the psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent and/or other family members.  Check out 9 warning signs that parental alienation might be present here.

National headlines were made when the wife of former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover was arrested for domestic violence battery and resisting arrest in St. Johns County, Florida on May 13, 2018.  The altercation allegedly occurred after Lucas Glover missed the 54-hole cut at The Players Championship.  Lucas Glover told authorities that his wife gets violent every time he does not play well in a major PGA Tournament.  There were allegedly visible injuries on Lucas Glover and his mother.  Krista Glover faces a court date on May 31, 2018 and was released on a $2,500 bond.

The Glovers children were present at the home when the incident happened.  Krista Glover had been drinking throughout the day and started yelling profane insults at Lucas Glover in front of their children and his mother.  Lucas Glover told her to stop the argument while in front of the children.  The children were in bed when the physical altercation happened, and it is unknown if they observed any of the altercation or the subsequent arrest afterwards where Krista Glover allegedly resisted arrest. The couple was married in 2012 and have two children, a two-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.

The consequences of arguments in front of the children can be serious to both the aggressor and the victim.  The Florida Department of Children and Families may become involved if they receive an abuse report to investigate regarding the situation, which could even lead to possible removal of the children from both parties if it is alleged Lucas Glover failed to protect the children from multiple instances.  Also, it is key that alcohol was involved.  Drinking is perfectly legal and acceptable; as long as there is not a demonstrable effect on the children.  If there is a demonstrable effect on the children, alcohol treatment would most likely be ordered by a dependency court.

Child custodyWhen can you ask the Court for an emergency child pick-up order? If your ex-spouse or, if you have not been married, the other parent takes your child for timesharing and does not return the child, what can you do?  What are your options if the child is taken out of the State of Florida?

What is an emergency pick-up order?  An emergency pick-up order is an order signed by the Court that directs the sheriff or other law enforcement officer to take a child from the person who has physical possession of your child and deliver the child to your custody.  The process is started by filing an Emergency Verified Motion for Child Pick-Up Order.  You must attach a certified birth certificate if you are the birth mother of a child born out of wedlock and no court order of paternity exists.  If you have a judgment establishing paternity or a court order showing you have legal custody, you attach a certified copy to your motion.

Compliance with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a must to ensure that Florida has jurisdiction.  See Fla. Stat. 61.514.  Florida must be the child’s home state within 6 months before the commencement of the proceeding.  The conditions in 61.514 specifically indicate under what circumstances the Court can take jurisdiction.

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