In a child custody and visitation case, the Florida Court of Appeal recently ruled that a trial court cannot choose one parent's religious beliefs over the others' absent a showing of harm to the children. In Steinman v. Steinman the mother appealed a trial court's order finding her in contempt of court for unilaterally making decisions regarding her children's religion. The parties' marital settlement agreement provided for joint decision-making concerning all major decisions involving the children. The father contended that the mother's unilateral decision concerning the children's religious education constituted contempt of court.
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.