In making a child custody and visitation award that provides for ultimate decision-making, a trial court must delineate the specific areas over which a parent can exercise this authority. In a recent case captioned McClure v. Beck, the former wife filed an appeal of a lower court decision which modified the parties’ final judgment. The Court of Appeal agreed with the former wife’s argument that the lower court decision should be reversed because the trial court erroneously gave the former husband ultimate decision-making authority without describing the specific areas over which he could exercise this authority. The parties’ original final judgment of dissolution of marriage gave the parents equal time sharing with their children. It required the parties to live in Indian River County. The former wife petitioned the Court to relocate to California. The lower court denied the former wife’s petition. Notwithstanding the Court’s ruling, the former wife remained in California. The former husband then filed a petition to modify the parties’ time-sharing schedule and asked the Court to award him ultimate decision-making authority if the parties were unable to agree. The magistrate gave the former husband ultimate decision-making authority when the parties disagreed on major decisions concerning the welfare of the children. The trial court affirmed the magistrate’s decision. The Court of Appeal reversed the magistrate’s and the trial court’s rulings.
The Court of Appeal stated that permitting one parent to have ultimate authority over specific matters where the parties cannot agree is permissible. However a final judgment must specify the particular aspects of a child’s life over which a parent may have ultimate responsibility. In this case the final judgment was reversed because it failed to delineate the specific aspects of the children’s lives over which the former husband had ultimate decision-making authority. The final judgment in this case stated that the parties should make an attempt to agree on major decisions affecting the children. Major decisions were defined as decisions about the children’s healthcare, education and other matters. If the parties were unable to agree, the Father was given ultimate decision-making authority. Since the order failed to delineate specific aspects of the children’s lives over which the former husband would have ultimate decision-making authority over, the Court of Appeals struck it down.