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Florida Child Custody, Military Service, and Grandparents’ Rights

If a parent who is the subject of a Florida child custody order is activated, deployed, or temporarily assigned to military service, that military parent may be able to designate the child’s grandparents to care for the child in his or her absence.

Related: Florida Grandparents’ Rights and Collaborative Divorce

Florida Statutes section 61.13002(2) states that, if a military parent so desires, a grandparent can take over that parent’s time-sharing schedule under certain circumstances.  The activation, deployment, or temporary assignment must be ordered for more than 90 days and materially affect the military parent’s ability to exercise his or her time-sharing rights.  The military parent must notify the other parent of the designation in writing.   The written notice must be provided to the other parent at least 10 days before the grandparent is to take over the military parent’s time-sharing.

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What Is A Florida Parenting Plan?

Any Florida parent who is going through a divorce with children or otherwise dealing with child custody issues will need to have a parenting plan.  A parenting plan is document that is either agreed upon by the parents or created by a judge that sets out each parents’ rights and responsibilities.  The Sixth Judicial Circuit (Pinellas and Pasco Counties) further describes a parenting plan as follows:

It is the public policy of this state to assure that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing. Florida Statutes, section 61.13(2)(c).

A parenting plan is a document developed and agreed to by the parents of a minor child, and approved by the court, or if the parents cannot agree, established by the court, which governs the relationship between the parents regarding the child (encompassing “custody”, “parental responsibility”, and “visitation”). A parenting plan may address issues such as the child’s education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being, and must include a time-sharing schedule. The parenting plan must take into account the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction when addressing jurisdictional issues.

For purposes of establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, which governs each parent’s relationship with his or her minor child and the relationship between each parent with regard to his or her minor child, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.

Any parenting plan approved by a court must address the following issues:

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HIV AIDS & Florida Child Custody

May a Florida Family Law Court deny a parent custody rights solely because he or she has HIV or AIDS?

According to section 61.13(6), Florida Statutes, the answer is no, but the court may take some actions.

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Private Child Custody Proceedings: Florida Collaborative Practice

When people are seeking to gain child custody rights in Florida – whether through divorce, paternity, establishment of parenting plan, grandparent custody, or other proceedings – the first step they usually take is file a petition with the Clerk of the Court.

Generally speaking, this is a mistake.

By filing a petition, they are entering into the public court system which pits mother against father.  This is an adversarial system which oftentimes leads parties to engage in emotionally and financially draining court battles, and all dirty laundry gets examined and aired.

But there is another way, a private way of determining parental responsibility and child time-sharing schedules.  It is called collaborative practice, also known as collaborative family law.

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Florida Grandparents’ Rights and Collaborative Divorce

Grandparents are, no doubt, an important part of the lives of Florida’s children.  The state government has on several occasions since 1978 enacted legislation to recognize Florida grandparent visitation and custody rights.  However, each statute which attempted to raise grandparents’ rights to the level of parents’ rights has been struck down by the Florida Supreme Court and appellate decisions as violating the fundamental rights of parents.

One effect of these court decisions is that a family law judge will not grant grandparents any visitation rights over the objection of a fit parent during divorce proceedings.

But what if there was a divorce process in which the importance of grandparents’ interaction with their grandchildren could be recognized?  There is, and the process is called collaborative divorce.

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Florida Child Custody Reform 2013

There has been a lot of press lately about efforts to reform Florida’s alimony laws.  As discussed on this blog, Senate Bill 718 (which primarily deals with alimony reform) passed the Florida House by a wide margin (85 Yeas versus 31 Nays) and, since it had also passed the Florida Senate, will be going to Governor Rick Scott for his signature.

Update: Governor Scott Vetoes Senate Bill 718

One area that may be even more significant, but has not received as much coverage, is language in Senate Bill 718 that reforms Florida’s child custody laws.  Currently, there is no presumption in favor of or against any child custody schedule, including a 50/50 split custody (known as equal time-sharing).  Senate Bill 718, however, adds language to section 61.13 of the Florida Statutes that seems to make a strong presumption in favor of equal time-sharing.

The text of the child custody provisions of Senate Bill 718 is reproduced below (deleted language is stricken while new language is underlined):

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Treatment of Children in Hillsborough County Family Law Cases

When a person files for divorce (or other family law action involving children) in Tampa, he or she will be provided with a temporary standing order which outlines how he or she should treat children during the matter.  The temporary standing order provides the following guidance:

The safety, financial security, and well being of the children involved in this case are the judge’s primary concern. It is the law that, except in certain rare circumstances, both parents will share parental responsibility for all minor children involved in this case. The law requires parents to share the children’s time and to participate together in making all important decisions concerning the children. The law expects parents to put aside their feelings and cooperate on all decisions involving the children. The following guidelines apply:

A. Children have a right to a loving, open and continuing relationship with both parents. They have the right to express love, affection and respect for one parent in the presence of the other parent.

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Pinellas County’s Standing Notice for Family Law Cases with Minor Children

When you file a family law case in a Tampa Bay court that involves children (such as divorce, paternity, or modification of a parenting plan), you will get a standing notice or order which prescribes how parents should treat one another and their children.

For the most part, parents that utilize common sense and common courtesy should have no problem sticking to these standing requirements. Below are excerpts of the requirements in Pinellas County:

1. CONTACT WITH BOTH PARENTS; SHARED PARENTING:

1.1. Contact with both parents is generally in the children’s best interests. Children are entitled to “frequent and continuing contact with both parents when the parents separate or divorce” as a matter of law.

1.2 The “primary residential parent” has an “affirmative obligation to encourage and  nurture a relationship between the children and the alternate residential parent.” A parent who restricts access of the children to the other parent and who does not encourage a relationship between the children and the other parent, perhaps should not be designated the “primary residential parent, ” as this is not acting in the children’s best interests and is not following the law.

1.3. In nearly all cases, the court orders “shared parental responsibility” of the children, which means co-parenting. The parents must confer with each other and agree on parenting decisions. Both parents must participate in all parenting  decisions and work out their time sharing schedules. If the parents cannot agree on any issue, then the court will decide.

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Florida Divorce – Time to Respond to a Petition

It is important for every person who is served with a Florida petition for dissolution of marriage to respond to the petition in a timely manner.

The petition, which sets out what a person wants a judge to do (such as dissolve the marriage, rule on custody, order child support, and divide marital property and debt), is generally personally served by a sheriff’s deputy or other authorized process server.  Once served, the respondent has 20 days to provide an answer to the petition and agree or disagree with the petitioner’s requests and allegations.

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In A Florida Child Custody Case, Does It Matter That I Am Gay?

I have been seeing more clients who are coming out of the closet either during or following their divorce (or during a child custody case not related to divorce). Each client has asked whether the Florida court is going to take into consideration his or her sexual orientation.

Though, in determining child custody matters, a Florida judge must take into consideration the “moral fitness” of the parents (see Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3)(f)), the court may not make a custody determination based solely on whether a parent is gay. In fact, a parent’s sexual orientation should not be a determining factor unless it has a direct negative impact on the welfare of the child.

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