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Palm Beach Florida Divorce & Family Law Blog

Child Custody and Visitation - Parenting Plans in Florida

A Child Custody and Visitation case was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal in a case captioned Scudder v. Scudder. The parties were married in 2001 in India, and have three children. When the husband and wife lived in the United Arab Emirates, they entered into a marital settlement agreement. The marital settlement agreement covered some financial issues involving the children, discussed child support, and set forth a timesharing schedule. The Husband then filed for divorce in Collier County, Florida. After filing for divorce in Collier County, Florida, the Husband and the children moved to Palm Beach County. The Circuit Court in Collier County, Florida transferred the case to the Circuit Court in Palm Beach County, Florida for purposes of resolving timesharing issues pertaining to the children. The parties agreed that a social investigation could be conducted. The social investigator filed a report and recommendation with the Court.

During the trial, the husband attempted to impeach the social investigator with his prior deposition testimony, however, the social investigator had not read and signed his deposition prior to the trial. Accordingly, the trial court rejected the husband's attempt to utilize the deposition for purposes of cross examination. After the trial, upon the husband's motion, the trial court permitted the husband to reopen the case to allow the husband to cross examine the social investigator. At the conclusion of the trial, the court awarded the husband 29.5% of the timesharing with the children, and awarded the wife 70.5% of the timesharing with the children. The Court also permitted the wife to relocate to New York.

Durational Alimony in Florida

A durational alimony case was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal in a case captioned Rhoden v. Rhoden. In this case the husband filed a Petition for Dissolution of a thirty-five year marriage. The husband denied that wife required alimony, and denied that he was able to pay it. The Court stated that the wife had several illnesses, and probably would not have been employable if she had not worked for her husband. The Florida Statutes enable trial courts to award several different types of alimony. In awarding alimony, a court must first find that one party has a need for support and that the other party has the ability to pay. Once the court makes this initial determination, the Court is required to consider other factors set forth in the Florida Statutes. In this case, the trial court awarded the wife durational alimony.

Modification of Child Custody and Visitation in Florida

A Modification of Child Custody and Visitation case was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal. In a case captioned Light v. Kirkland the mother appealed a judgment modifying her timesharing schedule with her child. The original divorce decree provided that the mother was to have timesharing with her child during the week, and the child was to spend three weekends per month with her father. The father filed a Supplemental Petition to Modify Timesharing. The trial court granted the father's Supplemental Petition, and awarded the father timesharing during the week. This modification required the child to transfer to a new school.

The Florida Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's decision. The Appellate Court pointed out that in order to modify custody and visitation, there must be a material, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances subsequent to the time that the divorce decree was entered. 

Children's Preferences in Child Custody and Visitation cases in Florida

A Child Custody and Visitation case involving a child's custody preference was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal. In a case captioned Talarico v. Talarico, the mother and father had two children. The parties divorced and negotiated parenting plans. Several years later, the father sought a modification of child custody and visitation, which the trial court granted. The Florida Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision.

The Florida Court of Appeal stated that in order to grant a modification of child custody, the moving party must prove that a material, substantial and unanticipated change of circumstances occurred which warrants the modification. This change of circumstances must adversely affect the children's welfare. One of the factors that the trial court is permitted to consider in reaching a custody decision is a child's reasonable preference. In order to consider a child's custody preference, the trial court must find that the child has sufficient experience, understanding and intelligence to express a preference. The Court of Appeal stated that trial courts ordinarily do not desire to have children testify in court against one of their parents. In the event that a trial court decides to permit such testimony, the preferred method to obtain such testimony is by an interview conducted by the trial judge outside of the presence of the parents. These interviews are either recorded (unless otherwise agreed to by the parties), or the judge provides a summary of the interviews.

Retirement - Modification of Alimony in Florida

A Modification of Alimony case involving a former husband's retirement was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal in a case captioned Befanis v. Befanis. In this case, a physician filed a Supplemental Petition for Modification of Alimony. The parties were divorced in 2010. At the time of the dissolution of marriage, the former husband was a successful ophthalmologist and owned his own practice. Five years after the divorce was granted, the former husband filed a Supplemental Petition for Modification of Alimony based upon the fact that he sold his business, was working as a salaried employee, and sustained a substantial decrease in his income. In his Supplemental Petition, the former husband also stated that he was preparing to retire, as he was almost 65 years of age. The former husband and former wife signed an agreed final judgment that reduced the former husband's alimony obligation.

Sixteen months later, the former husband filed a second Supplemental Petition for Modification seeking another reduction in his alimony. The basis for the former husband's second Supplemental Petition was that his employment contract ended and he retired.

Child Custody and Visitation in Florida

A Child Custody and Visitation case captioned Booth v. Hicks was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeals. In this case, the Mother appealed a final judgment that was rendered against her by the trial court. In this judgment, the lower court awarded the Father sole custody and parental responsibility of the parties' child. The parties' child lived primarily with the Mother. The Father petitioned the court to establish a parenting plan that awarded the Mother timesharing during the week and the Father timesharing on weekends. The Mother provided the trial court with her own parenting plan in which she sought sole parental responsibility.

The trial court held a final hearing in this matter. The Mother failed to appear at the final hearing. The Father presented testimony and two of his relatives also testified. The trial court awarded the Father sole custody and sole parental responsibility based upon the fact that the Mother did not appear at the hearing. The Mother filed a motion for rehearing, which was denied by the trial court.

Modification of Alimony in Florida

A Modification of Alimony case was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal in a case captioned Judy v. Judy. In this case the Former Husband sought modification of his alimony obligation. The amount of Former Wife's alimony was previously agreed to in a Marital Settlement Agreement. The Former Husband and Former Wife were married for 26 years. The Former Husband was the primary wage earner, and the Former Wife stayed home to raise the parties' two children. Prior to the Final Hearing, the parties entered into a Marital Settlement Agreement. The Marital Settlement Agreement stated that the Former Husband would pay 8 years of durational alimony to the Former Wife. The Marital Settlement Agreement also stated that the Former Husband's involuntary loss of employment would be considered to be a substantial change of circumstances for purposes of modification of alimony. By the time that the Final Hearing took place, the Former Husband was involuntarily unemployed. The trial court enforced the Marital Settlement Agreement, however, it permitted the Former Husband to institute an action for modification of alimony. Former Husband brought an action for modification of alimony. However, Former Husband dismissed this claim when he found employment. Five years later, Former Husband again became unemployed and brought this action for modification. Although Former Husband regained employment, he pursued his claim for modification of alimony based upon the fact that his current income was less than it was at the time of the Final Hearing and because the Former Wife had not obtained employment subsequent to the entry of the Final Judgment.

The Requirement to Purchase Life Insurance to Secure Alimony Awards in Florida

As part of an alimony obligation, a payor may be required to purchase life insurance to secure the award. In a recently decided case captioned Sager v. Sager the former husband appealed the final judgment. He argued that the trial court erred in requiring him to purchase life insurance to secure his alimony obligation. Husband and wife were married in 1982, and the former husband filed for divorce in 2016. Former husband was a mortgage broker and former wife was a teacher. The parties lived in the State of New Jersey for a large part of their marriage. The parties moved to the State of Florida and bought two houses. They used one as the marital home and used the other as a rental property. The former husband was 72 years old, and was retired. The former wife was 66 years of age. She did not have a college degree and was an early childhood teacher. She was also a substitute teacher in the summer. The trial court required the former husband to purchase a $250,000 life insurance policy to secure his alimony obligation to the former wife. The former husband appealed from the judgment requiring him to purchase the life insurance policy.

Modification of Child Custody and Visitation

Modification of Child Custody and Visitation was recently discussed by the Florida Court of Appeal in a case captioned Ezra v. Ezra. In this case the father challenged the decision of the trial court granting the mother exclusive decision-making responsibility for the children's medical and educational needs. In this case, the parents married in 2004. They had two children. They separated the day after their 6th wedding anniversary. The mother alleged abuse by the father during the course of the marriage, as well as extreme disciplinary conduct toward the children. In 2011, the lower court ratified an agreed parenting plan which granted the parties shared parental responsibility for the healthcare and education needs of the children.

Subsequent to the entry of the final judgment, the father's financial situation deteriorated. The father's child support payments diminished. The children were historically enrolled in a private religious school. Due to the diminution of the father's income, the mother sought financial aid for the children. The father allegedly impeded the mother's efforts to obtain financial aid for the children. Additionally, the father allegedly interfered with medical treatment for one of the children. The mother sought modification of parental responsibility. The trial court granted the mother's request for unilateral decision-making authority for the children's healthcare and educational needs.

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