Florida family law cases involving children, custody, time-sharing, parental responsibility, and a parenting plan can be challenging not just in the initial case, but as time goes by. When these things are fought over, the parents often loose sight of the fact that they don’t just have to raise a child while the court proceeding is going on, but until the child actually turns 18 and moves out of the house. Jacksonville and other North Florida courts try to keep the level of parental animosity to a low, but ultimately the court only has so much control over the individuals. However, one continuous arm the court and the parents have is when the parenting plan gives specific directions about speaking negatively about the other parent to the child, interfering with the child’s relationship with the other parent, or simply alienating the child from the other parent.
In most parenting plans, there is specific language regarding the relationship of the parent with the child, especially when it comes to matters of the other parent. For example, in many cases, there may be language like, “Neither parent shall disparage the other to the child, speak negatively in front of the child about the other, or hinder the other parent’s relationship with the child in anyway.” The reason this language or similar language may be in an order is because the impact on the other parent’s relationship with child may be severe damage. The parenting plan helps the parents understand what they can and cannot do, or should and should not do as parents raising a child in a divided home. When the parenting plan is placed into a final order and signed by the court, it becomes enforceable, meaning that there can be court recourse if a parent does not abide by the order.
When raising children, it is important to maintain the standard of, “the best interest of the child,” and not, “the best standard for me.” If a parent violates the parenting plan and begins to alienate the child, then action can be taken with a contempt action. In a Motion for Contempt, the court looks at the order for clarification of what should be done by both parties. Then, the court hears testimony and evidence regarding how the order has been violated by one of the parties. If there is evidence presented that shows that the child has, in fact, been exposed to negative, derogatory, or alienating words or actions by one parent against the other, then that parent may be held in contempt. If the same actions continue, then the parent being alienate may go back to court on more than one occasion to have the other parent held in contempt. Contempt is a voluntary and willful action of one party that is against the court order.
If a parent is held in contempt more than one time for the same alienating acts, then the non-offending parent may decide to file for a modification of custody (time-sharing) so that the child’s exposure to the other parent is limited. Sometimes, jumping off at the point of, “I have been alienated by the other parent and I want to modify time-sharing,” can be too much and the court may not find that there is enough to alter the prior order for time-sharing. However, if you can show a pattern of behavior to the court, then your chances are much greater to succeed in changing custody down the line. Hunter v. Hunter, 35 FLW D 1696 (Fla. 2nd DCA August 3, 2011).