Child Custody and Visitation in Florida

A case involving unmarried parents was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeals.  In a case captioned Booth v. Hicks, 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.

The Florida Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s time-sharing decision. The Court ruled that a trial court may only make an award of custody and parental responsibility based upon the best interests of a child. The Court of Appeal went on to state that custody should not be denied to a parent as long that parent, while in the presence of the child, conducts herself or himself in a manner that will not adversely affect the child. The Court of Appeal pointed out that the complete denial of time-sharing is almost never proper. The Court ruled that the best interests of the child overrides a parent’s failure to appear at a hearing. A parties’ actions in a court proceeding do not override a child’s right to have his or her custody determination decided based on his or her best interests. A child may not be punished for a parent’s misconduct. Custody is based upon the child’s best interests, not upon one of the parent’s default.

The Florida Court of Appeal required the trial court to grant the Mother a rehearing at which she can present evidence as to the best interests of the child.

To speak with a child custody and visitation attorney, contact Matthew Lane & Associates, P.A. at (561) 363-3400.