Articles Posted in Custody

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It may not snow in Florida, but the feeling of the holiday season is already in the air. Every year at around this time, some radio stations begin playing Christmas carols around the clock, while on other stations, radio DJs snark about how Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are peak season for family conflict. It is true that holiday-related stress is a real phenomenon, as anyone who works in the mental health field can attest. If you have shared custody of children with your ex-spouse or former partner, though, there are things you can do to reduce the stress of co-parenting during the holidays. Specifically, Florida’s parenting plans, in their current version, contain clauses specifically designed to avoid conflict about holiday plans before they start.

How do Florida Parenting Plans Address Holiday Timesharing?

People whose parents divorced in the 1980s and 1990s probably remember that life settled into a rhythm, usually including living with Mom during the week and with Dad on the weekends, but that sparks always flew at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when extended family members visited, or when one parent wanted to take the children to visit out-of-town relatives during a holiday.  This is one of the major issues that Florida’s new parenting plans address. The parenting plan template has questions to address every school vacation, including winter break, Thanksgiving, and spring break. Parents can choose, as soon as they divorce, where the children will spend each holiday each year. For example, they can specify that, in odd-numbered years, the children will spend Thanksgiving break with Mom until Friday afternoon and then spend the rest of it with Dad, but in even-numbered years, they will be with Dad until Friday afternoon and then go to Mom’s house. Parenting plans even allow parents to allot certain times for children to stay with grandparents, and they can choose to grant certain holiday days to the grandparents.

In some ways, Thanksgiving is the simplest holiday to plan because it is always on a Thursday.  What about Christmas, which is always on the same date, but on different days of the week?  What about Hanukkah, which sometimes coincides with winter break and sometimes does not?  What about Islamic holidays, which, because the Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, vary not only by day of the week, but by month?  (For example, this year, both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha were during summer vacation. In 2000, Eid al-Fitr was between Christmas and New Year’s.) Florida’s parenting plans were made to be customized.  You can specify that each parent gets the children for four nights of Hanukkah, and that if it falls during a school week, each parent gets one non-school night of the holiday. Continue reading

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Whenever possible, Florida courts give custody of children to the children’s legal mother and legal father. Custody is defined as physical residence with a parent or other legal guardian and decision-making power related to the children’s education, medical care, and other important life events. Usually, the legal mother and legal father are the child’s biological mother and her husband. If the mother is not married, a man can become the legal father by filing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity with the court. In the case of adoption, the court transfers parental rights from the biological parents to the adoptive parents.

Once you are the legal parent of a child, it is difficult to lose your parental rights. The courts acknowledge that parents are only human, and that it is almost always in a child’s best interest to stay with his or her own parents. For example, having a criminal record or a diagnosis of a mental illness or addiction does not, by itself, mean that the court will reduce or take away your right to spend time with your children or make decisions about them. Involuntary termination of parental rights only happens when it is impossible for the parent to provide adequate care for the child or when the parent has seriously endangered the child. Continue reading

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According to Florida law, if a woman is married at the time that she gives birth, her husband automatically becomes the legal father, even if neither spouse claims that the husband is or could be the biological father of the child. (This most often happens when the mother is separated from her husband, but they have not yet finalized their divorce.) If the woman is unmarried, then it is fairly simple for the child’s biological father to establish legal paternity; the courts usually do not even require a DNA test. If the biological father wants to establish paternity, but the mother is married to someone else, however, then he faces an uphill battle. Miranda Wilkerson is a child in whose custody case the mother’s husband’s status as legal father was a determining factor, but her case is also complicated for several other reasons.

Details of the Miranda Wilkerson Case

Trista Crews and Donald Coleman met and began their relationship in 1997, when she was 14 and he was 38. They married when Trista was 16, with Trista’s mother Rita Manning giving consent for her underage daughter to marry. Nonetheless, Coleman eventually had to register as a sex offender because of the age difference in his relationship with Trista. They would go on to have three children together before separating in 2007.

Trista was separated from Donald Coleman at the time of Miranda’s birth, and he filed for divorce at around that time because he doubted that he was Miranda’s biological father. About a month later, Trista died in a car accident, and her mother Rita Manning assumed responsibility for Miranda’s care. After a long custody battle between Manning and Coleman, a judge finally awarded custody of Miranda to Coleman, who was then living in Georgia. Miranda was then three years old, and she had lived with her grandmother almost since birth. Miranda’s biological father has since tried to get custody of her, but currently available news reports offer few details about that aspect of the case. Continue reading

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When Floridians move out of state, for example, to attend an out-of-state college, they can find plenty of reasons to brag to their buddies from other states. I swam in an alligator-infested river and lived to tell about it! Yes, people flaunt their cosmetic surgery-enhanced bodies on Florida beaches every day, even Christmas! I have had a driver’s license since my 16th birthday, and I have never once parallel parked, not even on my driving test! The last boast is what makes your buddies do a double-take, since the other Florida quirks are quite famous. It is entirely possible to get a driver’s license in Florida without learning how to parallel park; almost everywhere has a parking lot or parking garage, anyway. What you do need to do in order to get a driver’s license in Florida before you can take the test to get your license is complete a one-day course about traffic safety and Florida traffic laws.

What has any of this to do with divorce in Florida? It turns out that many Florida divorce cases require parenting classes. In fact, mandatory parenting classes in Florida divorce cases are almost as routine as the one-day class for new drivers in Florida.

Mandatory Parenting Classes in Florida

It is common for Florida family courts to require Florida couples going through a divorce to complete the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course before the judge will sign the final divorce decree. In fact, Florida courts require it of every divorcing couple that has minor children. Additionally, when a man who is not married to his child’s mother establishes paternity, the court requires both parents to complete the course. Continue reading

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In recent decades, Florida courts have shown more appreciation for the important role of fathers in their children’s lives. For example, the idea of a mother having “primary custody” of the children while the father only has “visitation” is mostly a thing of the past. Today, parenting plans contain a lot more detail and nuance about the role of each parent. All of this is simple enough when it comes to fathers who have gone through a divorce from the children’s mother.  But what about when the child’s parents were never married to each other? Then is it easy for the mother to keep the children away from the father?  In order for unmarried fathers to be able to defend their legal rights to a meaningful relationship with their children, they must first legally establish paternity.

What Rights do Fathers Have?

You might think that going through the process to establish paternity is unnecessary red tape, especially if you communicate well enough with your child’s mother that there have never been any major disagreements about the child. You might have an unwritten agreement where you take care of the child at certain times and provide some financial support to the child. Without legally establishing paternity, though, anything can change. What if a new partner enters the picture? What if one of you decides to move out of state? Continue reading

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No matter your profession, you have probably seen articles circulating online or on email lists about industry-specific words to expunge from your vocabulary. Most of these articles flag certain words for deletion because they are clichés or neologisms. The first time you clicked on a clickbait article telling you to avoid saying “think outside the box” or “circle back” was probably years ago, when the term “clickbait” was known only to professional writers. The family law terms you should remove from your vocabulary, however, are actually misleading. They refer to outdated concepts in family law and therefore are unhelpful in thinking about your divorce and parenting plan.

Custody

People tend to speak of one parent having custody of the children after a divorce, while the other parent has visitation. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was more common than it is now for children to spend most of their time with one parent and to spend only two weekends a month with the other parent. Now, when possible, courts often rule to have children spend at least two nights per week with each parent. Exceptions are when the parents live so far away from each other that it is not practical to transport the children back and forth each week.

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You have probably heard about divorced couples engaging in bitter legal battles over which one of them will have custody of the couple’s children. You might also know someone who stays in an unhappy marriage because he or she fears that, upon divorce, he or she will be ordered to pay hefty child support payments and have the court meddle in his or her finances for years, while being forced to give up the rights to make decisions about his or her children’s upbringing. In reality, child custody is rarely an all or nothing situation. Likewise, Florida courts do not impose child support obligations as a way to punish parents. In making decisions about custody and child support, judges are to consider the children’s best interest above all else and to determine how to promote the children’s interests in a way that is feasible for both parents.

There is No One Size Fits All Parenting Plan

It is rare in Florida that judges award sole custody of the children to only one parent.  Besides, the word “custody” has more than one meaning in Florida law.  Physical custody refers to where and with whom the children reside most of the time, whereas legal custody refers to who has the authority to make important decisions about the children. Legal custody includes the right to choose which school the children attend, which medical treatments they receive, and which religious activities they participate in, among other important decisions. It is technically possible for one parent to have more time with the children while the other has the last word about their education and extracurricular activities. Continue reading

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In Florida, children rarely testify in court. Even when the children are old enough to provide useful testimony, judges always avoid having minors testify in family law cases unless there is no other alternative. Divorce and custody battles are stressful enough for children and teenagers, and being questioned in a courtroom could cause them unnecessary additional stress. Therefore, courts often appoint a guardian ad litem to speak on behalf of the child.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem is a person appointed to provide information about the child and his or her situation in order to help the judge make a decision about the child’s best interest. The guardian ad litem does not have custody of the child even temporarily; the child’s legal guardians remain the biological, adoptive, or foster parents. The guardian ad litem’s legal responsibility to the child is only to represent the child’s best interests before the judge.

In Florida, guardians ad litem are volunteers, and each guardian ad litem is assigned to only one child or family at a time. They come from all different professional and educational backgrounds. Regardless of previous work experience, they must take a training course to become qualified to work as guardians ad litem. Many of them have worked with children in their professional lives and have a keen sense of what constitutes a child’s best interest; many guardians ad litem are social workers, teachers, and healthcare workers. Continue reading

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Relocating from Florida with minor children can often times present a challenging situation.  The Court must engage in a balancing test between the rights of the parent wishing to relocate against the rights of the stay behind parent. Ultimately, the judge must decide the issue based on the best interests of the minor children.

The judge’s discretion however, is not unlimited or unchecked.  The trial judge is bound to follow the mandates of the Florida relocation statute, found in Florida Statue 61.13001.

The relocation statute includes a list of ten (10) factors that the judge hearing the case is required to consider. No one factor is more important than any other.  The judge will hear evidence on all of the various factors, and do what is best for the children.

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The current law in Florida provides that a parent cannot relocate or change the location of their principal residence if that change of residence will be more than 50 miles from their current residence.  If a spouse is considering a move that is more than 50 miles away, they must obtain either the written consent of the other spouse, or seek approval from the court.  The relocation provisions of Florida law are found in Florida Statute 61.13001.

In the absence of a statutory or contractual provision to the contrary, the proper method to measure the distance between 2 points is the straight line or quote as the crow flies” measure. If the distance using the straight-line test measurement is less than 50 miles, a move can be made by one parent without consent from the other parent or approval from the court. This would be true even if the move is 49 miles away.

However, simply because a move is less than 50 miles away, does not mean that other aspects of a parenting plan would be effected.  A move 49 miles away would most definitely effect the school boundaries, and therefore the school that the minor child would attend.  Does this mean that the moving or relocating parent has a right to change schools without obtaining the other parent’s consent?