This paternity case involved an unmarried mother and an unmarried father in Hillsborough County, Florida. This litigation started when the child was 16 months old. The parties were initially able to settle matters involving their personal property. However, disputes about the child continued for many years. After an August 2008 hearing, the trial court entered a temporary order awarding majority time-sharing to the father. The remaining issues were referred to a general magistrate. The general magistrate did not conduct a hearing on these issues for two years. One of the parents objected, and the reviewing court did not issue an order for three more years. The mother objected to this ruling and the court did not rule on the mother’s objections for another two years.
The father was then found in contempt of court for violating the temporary timesharing order. In the contempt order, the father lost his majority timesharing with the child. The court granted a custody modification and awarded the mother equal timesharing. The father was also admonished not to exercise sole parental responsibility and was ordered not to engage in conduct that hindered effective co-parenting.
The Court of Appeal ruled that trial courts in Florida cannot modify custody orders as a sanction for contempt of court. Motions for contempt are filed to enforce the provisions contained in parenting plans contained in court orders. Trial courts are prohibited from modifying custody provisions as a sanction for a party’s contempt of court. The reason for this is that the penalty of changing custody does not compel compliance. Instead, it punishes the child for the parent’s misconduct. The Florida Court of Appeal ruled that the better course of action is to grant additional visitation or make-up visitation. The Court held that a trial court may not sanction a parent by reducing his or her timesharing. This sanction is not permitted as a matter of law in the State of Florida. Accordingly, the trial court’s order was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court.