Articles Posted in Child Abuse and Neglect

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney

Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1125087_person_jail.jpgBefore the introduction of the Romeo and Juliet Law in Florida, two victims may have existed in a sexual battery of a minor conviction. Florida law stated that a minor (16 years of age and under) cannot consent to having sexual intercourse. Therefore, the older boyfriend or girlfriend of a minor could be charged and convicted of statutory rape and be placed on the Florida sex offender list for a lifetime if s/he engaged in intercourse.

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

First, the Florida legislature changed child custody to “primary timesharing parent” in October, 2008. However, since most of us are familiar with child custody and custody issues, this article will still address the issue as the historic term, “custody.”
As a Jacksonville Florida family law and divorce attorney, dealing with paternity cases and divorces with children, custody issues often arise and the Social Evaluation is an important factor in helping the parents better understand the issues facing the children, and the evaluation assists the judge in having a better understanding and comprehension of what is in the best interest of the children. In Jacksonville and throughout Florida, the social investigation is a component of the case that may be used in its entirety by the judge or may give the judge a basis for a particular ruling. In addition, the evaluation can provide the parties with a stepping-stone or format by which to reach an agreement regarding visitation issues.

The social investigation is conducted by a professional, usually someone with a psychology and law background, and the investigator actually interviews the parents, speaks with witnesses, talks to the kids, look at school records, etc. Once the reviews and statements are completed, the evaluator writes a comprehensive report to demonstrate the findings for each parent, child, and the overall assessment of a parenting plan and recommendations for the court regarding any other matters that should be addressed (i.e. whether counseling is recommended, communication issues, etc.).

So how do you present well in the social investigation? Basically, parties are often concerned that they need to present themselves in a certain light to impress the investigator. However, most of the individuals handing these matters can tell when a party is putting on a show. The idea is not to be fake or phony, but to present your concerns for the children, explain your relationship with the children, and truly identify your wants and needs and the children’s wants and needs before the interview. Being genuine with the investigator is beneficial because it allows the investigator to truly determine any family issues that may need to be addressed, the impact the divorce/separation is actually having on the children and the like. The reason for the investigation is not to berate the parents, but to simply identify what may be in the best interest of the children in the present and in the future.

Extend a mental olive branch to the other party. During your interview with the evaluator, do not destroy the other parent with disparaging remarks. Describe the parts of parenting that the other parent does well and be honest in your comments about the children’s relationship with their other parent. Then share the things that do concern you about the other party, or about the separation of the children. You do not have to make it sound like everyone is great, you’re getting divorced there were issues in the home, so being real about the situation can be helpful in reaching the right conclusion for your case.

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In the state of Florida, if a parent has been convicted of misdemeanor, first degree or felony domestic abuse charges, the judge may rule that it is not in the child’s best interest to award custody or time-sharing rights to that parent. The same is true if the parent is in prison for a crime that would warrant terminating parental rights. If a parent is denied parental responsibility by the courts, he or she has the right to ask a judge to consider evidence that might prove that it would not harm the child to allow the parent custody or visitation rights. The court’s job is to look at the fitness of the parents and what is in the best interest of the child. As a Jacksonville divorce and family law attorney I often have parents ask whether they will be granted time-sharing (visitation) or if they have a chance of getting majority time-sharing (custody). When evaluating this question, it is important to look at the historical nature of the family unit, the likelihood of the parent facilitating a good relationship with the child and the other parent, and multiple other factors. When there are reports, accusations or evidence of abuse in the family, then the question of custody is harder to answer because those factors will be considered by the court due to the interest in not putting the children in harm’s way.

If the parent has not been convicted of a domestic violence or child abuse offense, the judge will generally consider evidence of abuse, even if the accusing party has never filed an injunction for protection from domestic violence against them. The judge will use the evidence to determine what type of parental rights the alleged abuser is entitled to. The accused or convicted, may present evidence and testimony to dispute such accusations or to show the judge how things have changed since the incident occurred. If certain activities have been completed, including counseling, then the court may take that into consideration in determining whether there is still a propensity to commit violent acts.

If an abusive parent is awarded visitation rights, the other party may request that the visits be limited or supervised. It will be up to the judge to decide whether or not the abuser represents a risk to the child or the other parent that warrants supervised or restricted visitation. A neutral third party, like the Family Nurturing Center in Jacksonville, Florida, typically does supervised visitation. The center actually observes the visitations and records them for additional protection of the children. If supervised visitation or time-sharing is ordered and over time there are no issues, then the parent observing such time-sharing may ask the court to modify the time-sharing plan to stop the supervision, but the court will again evaluate the case based on the best interest of the child.

Weight.jpgFlorida divorce and custody battles (e.g. time-sharing battles) often center on the parenting styles of each party, the relationship of the children with each party, and the ability to care for the children in a safe, stable environment. When these things are questioned it can lead to legal arguments that center on the children and their academics, health, social environment and the like. As a divorce and family lawyer in Jacksonville, it has come to my attention over the years that sometimes the health of the children is more than simply getting check-ups, but also receiving the proper attention to their diet, school activities, etc. When these battles ensue, often fingers are pointed for things such as neglect, abuse (emotional or physical), lack of participation in homework and the like. However, in a 2009 Time Health article, the question of obesity in children has risen as a concern in custody or time-sharing disputes given the rise in the epidemic over the years.

The question, according to the article, is “Should morbidly obese children be taken from their parents?” While I do not see the Florida Department of Children and Families coming into everyone’s home with this issue, I can see how it may impact a legal case between two parents, especially if one parent is seeking a modification from a prior custody or time-sharing order. In order to file for a modification of time-sharing in Florida you must show a substantial change in circumstance. The question then would become, “Is the child’s excessive weight gain a substantial change in circumstance?” I believe, based on the health of the child, that the question may prompt legal action in the future.

According to the Time Health article, experts seem to be debating whether parenting styles can impact a child’s risk of obesity, thus making it healthier for the child to be out of the home of said parent. The concern is that if the child is gaining weight in the current environment, then there may be cause to remove the child to allow the child a chance at a healthier lifestyle in a different environment. The concern is a real one given that, “Childhood obesity can lead to a host of health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, which until recently was primarily a problem seen in adults. Overweight children can also develop insulin resistance, hypertension, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and orthopedic problems and go into early puberty,” according Time Health.

Florida paternity is established by marriage or the Court, not by signing a Birth Certificate. A Birth Certificate does nothing more than give the presumption that you are, in fact, the father of your child. If you are not married to the mother ( at least 10% of couples living together are not married), then the Court does not recognize you as the baby’s daddy.

To establish your rights to the child, it is important that you speak with an attorney so that your child does not grow-up without you. What you need to ask your attorney:

1. How do I file a Petition to Establish Paternity?

College.jpgMechelle Seals had very low self esteem and very little experience with men when she met her first husband. After a year of marriage, however, a fight ended in the man throwing Ms. Seals to the ground and threatening their four month old daughter with a gun. Her second husband verbally abused her, and was convicted of sexually abusing her mentally handicapped daughter.

She recently explained why she stayed with both of these men, what prompted her to leave them and how she has turned her life around. She says that the abuse in her first marriage started very gradually, first with little insults and nags, then accusations of infidelity. The first time he hit her, he had been drinking and she forgave him – she believed she could help him change. The second time he got physical with her, he held a gun to their child’s head and told her to get out. She managed to escape with the child. They eventually divorced and Ms. Seals moved to Florida to get a fresh start.

About ten years later she met and married her second husband. She still had low self esteem, and she fell for the man because he paid attention to her. Soon after the wedding, the man began verbally abusing her and her now twelve year old daughter, who has an IQ of 65. A few months later, the girl knocked on a neighbor’s door and reported that her step father had been sexually abusing her. Ms. Seals divorced her husband while he was in jail awaiting trial.

Sailboat.jpgAccording to authorities, Paul Martikainen kidnapped his three-year old son, Luke Finch, escaping in a sailboat. Cocoa Beach police have reported that witnesses saw the two get into a 32-foot Bristol sailboat at Salt Creek Marina in St. Petersburg, Florida. They said the boy did not seem scared. Acquaintances of the man are worried about both father and son, saying that Martikainen has no sailing experience. According to other boaters at the marina, it is impossible for one person to sail a boat and watch a child at the same time, even for an experienced boater.

Martikainen purchased the boat less than a month ago, saying that he was buying it for someone else, and was going to fix it up and then transport it to Arkansas; he appeared to be living in the boat while he was working on it. Martikainen had further drawn attention to himself around the marina by asking other boaters how to tie different types of sailing knots. Some of the other boaters encouraged him to take sailing lessons after he told them he was going to take the boat out after Thanksgiving.

Luke was reported missing during a supervised visit with his father. He apparently slipped away from the court-appointed supervisor while they were hanging out in a Cocoa park. The supervision was ordered because of earlier allegations that Martikainen was abusing the child. An Amber alert brought in tips that helped police track Martikainen’s vehicle to the marina. Authorities believe the abduction was planned, noting that Martikainen had painted the boat gray, both to cover identifying marks and to make it hard to spot in the ocean.

Plane.jpgSamad Nesser has tried every legal avenue to prevent his eleven year old son from being taken to France to stay with his mother and her new husband. According to Nesser, his ex-wife has allowed his son to be abused by the new husband, and suffers from sleeplessness and chest pains whenever he returns home from staying with them. Nesser is an American citizen, but his wife is not. The husband, a French citizen, used to live in Palm Beach, Florida, where he was the subject of a restraining order after allegedly breaking into his girlfriend’s home and hitting and pushing her and her elderly mother to the floor. Nesser claims that this same man locked his son in an attic and threatened to kill him.

Judge Daniel Merrit Jr. has refused to grant requests for a guardian ad litem for Nesser’s son. A guardian ad litem would spend time with the child to determine what that child wants and what is in his best interest. Merrit has also refused to let the child testify in court, and the records of the child’s counseling sessions have not been admitted due to what Nesser claims are stalling tactics on the part of his ex-wife’s attorney. At present, there is no way for Nesser to stop his ex-wife from taking their child back to France with her.

According to Florida law, when two parents have a child in Florida, they maintain their rights no matter where they might move later on. Those rights are recognized regardless of citizenship. If you are involved in a child custody battle, please contact our firm for legal assistance.

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Florida Family Law Attorney

In Jacksonville, Florida, as a family law attorney, I receive questions about terminating parental rights. This is not an easy process since there are many protections in place for parents. I will probably do a series of blogs on this topic in order to cover each area, but we will start with the consent and agreement of both parties.

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Florida Family Law Attorney

In Florida, there is a relocation statute if you are moving with a child. As a Jacksonville divorce and family law attorney, I realize that not everyone understands that moving may require court action. Relocating for a job, marriage or any other reason? If you have a child and looking to move, then you may have to file a Petition for Relocation with the Court.

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