Articles Posted in Child Custody

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney

788179_brothers_and_sisters.jpgTerminating a parent’s parental rights in Florida is not easy. As a Jacksonville family lawyer I often have clients that are frustrated because one parent has continuously failed to pay child support. The parent may have hired the Florida Department of Revenue to find the parent, but been unsuccessful in getting result. The parent who is responsible for the child the majority of the time often grows tired of always having to track down the “deadbeat parent”. However, Florida laws protect parents’ rights and want to make certain that the children’s best interests are looked after.

Under Florida law, nonpayment of child support is not enough to show abandonment of a child. A parent cannot seek to terminate another’s rights simply because child support has not been paid. Also, a parent cannot deny the other time-sharing (i.e. visitation) with the children simply because child support has gone unpaid. Child support and time with your child are two very different things and the Florida courts treat them as such.

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney

1183643_must_be_true_its_written_in_books.jpgDivorce with children can be complicated, and in Florida, may require a parenting class to help deal with it. Florida divorces involving children have a requirement that the parents attend a parenting class previously approved by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). In some paternity cases in Florida, the parents are required to attend the same class that divorced parents attend given that the issues are similar in dealing with the children having, in essence, two homes.

There are online classes available, but they may not be permitted or used in the courts where you reside. For example, an online course is allowed for those who have a divorce case in St. Augustine, but not in Jacksonville. Unless a parent resides out-of-town, the parents in a Jacksonville divorce are required to physically attend the class.

905626_finger.jpgMore courts throughout the country including Florida are recognizing a condition called Parental Alienation Syndrome or PAS. Parental Alienation Syndrome is often found in child custody or time-sharing battles in Florida. The basis for the issue is that one parent tries to pull the child into his/her corner and makes derogatory or disparaging remarks to the child about the other parent. The effect of which can be alienating the child’s affections from one parent to the other. As a Jacksonville divorce and family law attorney, I often counsel my clients early on that the children are not part of the case and are not meant to be involved. However, ultimately it is up to the parents to shelter the child from the court battle.

Often in a divorce, emotions run high and a parent may be concerned that the court will make a decision that takes the child from them. If emotions become too high and both parties are looking to achieve majority time-sharing, then the court may require that the parties undergo a Social Investigation, which took the place of a custody evaluation. The investigator is often a mental health professional that is trained to look at the parents and child to determine what is in the best interest of the child for purposes of time-sharing. The accusations of PAS should be brought to the attention of the investigator so that they can be properly identified and determined as to whether detrimental to the best interest of the child and the overall placement of the child with regards the time-sharing and parenting plans.

Issues involving claims or allegations of PAS can also be brought later by the parent-victim and determined by the court as to whether it is a substantial enough change to warrant a change in majority time-sharing. If PAS can be identified by the court through witness testimony (the child if she/he is old enough), and other evidence, then the court may find that the parent exhibiting such behaviors should be limited in his/her contact with the child, thus creating a need and environment for the child to be placed with the other parent on a majority basis.

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

1282783_silhouettes_8.jpgIssues involving children typically arise in Florida divorce and paternity actions. As a Jacksonville family and divorce lawyer, I often meet with clients that want to have sole custody of the child. However, sole custody is not what they imagine it to be. The confusion in the terminology typically leads itself down an unwanted path. The questions that need to be answered are whether both parents are fit to have shared parental responsibilities in making decisions regarding the child(ren) and what type of time-sharing or visitation they would most like to have with the child. Understanding the terms can be helpful when going through a divorce or paternity case because you better know what to fight for during the case.

Sole custody is actually no longer a term used in Florida family law cases. The implications of, “sole custody,” are that one parent wants the other parent to have absolutely nothing to do with the child. Typically, this is not the case. However, if you ask the court for, “sole custody,” then the judge is typically going to ask what it is about the other parent that makes him or her unfit as a parent. For example, if Mary and Frank are divorcing and Mary has a significant drug and alcohol addiction, then Frank may tell an attorney he wants sole custody. What Frank really means is that he wants to be the majority time-sharing parent, in accordance with Florida statutes. Also, Frank is saying that Mary is not capable of making decisions regarding the child’s welfare, including decisions related to education, medical attention and the like. Therefore, Frank actually wants to be the majority time-sharing parent and have sole parental responsibility for the child.

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

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Jacksonville, Florida is home to many military families and as a divorce lawyer and family law attorney in the area; I find it important to educate my clients on some nuances that may occur when dealing with children in a military. In dealing with military divorce or paternity cases, the common issues that arise are visitation and custody; now considered time-sharing in Florida.

In a military family, the one thing that members of the family become familiar with is the idea that where you live now may not be where you live in six months or six years. Adapting to change is a gift that many involved in the military have to succeed at. However, if the family divides, then how does that impact the family unit regarding visitation and custody issues?

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

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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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Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

Ammo.jpgDomestic violence issues in Florida and throughout the country can be seen in even the most heinous of crimes. Sometimes, the domestic violence can be a precursor for violence on others, including innocent, unrelated victims. A recent case is the much publicized case involving Jennifer Hudson’s family, but a case that struck many of us throughout the country, the sniper shootings in Virginia, also started with domestic violence. Mildred Muhammad, ex-wife of DC Sniper John Allan Muhammad, gave an interview to Larry King the night before her husband was to be executed for his crimes at a Virginia state prison. Muhammad left 10 dead in a shooting spree that his ex-wife believes was destined to end with her as its final victim.

Ms. Muhammad said she felt very guilty about the victims of her ex-husband’s rampage, which left millions of DC residents fearful of going out in public. She claims that she had done “everything I knew how to do” to bring Mohammad’s violent and abusive nature to the attention of authorities, but it wasn’t enough. And she has expressed feelings of shame for not realizing that his violent behavior would extend beyond her, to affect other people. Like many victims of domestic violence, Ms. Muhammad’s guilt lingers for her inaction, but domestic violence by another does not require the fault of the other spouse or victim, simply behaviors of violence that are so easily exposed by a trigger to the violent person.

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

tug-o-war1-1.jpgAs a Jacksonville, Florida divorce lawyer, I handle cases dealing with primary time-sharing issues, previously known as custody battles. In representing one parent against the other, my job is not only to represent my client, but to also make certain that in doing so I am preserving what is in the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child standard is used throughout almost every state in determining issues such as custody, time-sharing, visitation, parental responsibility, and the like. When the best interest of the child is in jeopardy the courts find it their duty to protect the children from irreparable harm, both physically and mentally.

A parent who fights for custody simply because she or he does not want to pay child support or simply because she or he needs child support, are not looking out for the best interest of the child, but their own best interest. This type of divorce and custody dispute can lead parties to make poor decisions for the children and cause a rift in their relationship with the children and also with the other parent, thus making it difficult to make big decisions together for the sake of the children. Once the case is over, the judge does not have a magic wand to put all relationships back as if the battle never occurred. Typically, the child will then grow-up with parents that barely communicate and the child may or may not have a solid relationship with each parent at the end of the day.

Bringing children into your legal battle is not for the child’s benefit. The child should be protected from the divorce battle or custody battle that is ongoing with the other parent. When the court is looking to which parent is the best choice to take care of the child the majority of the time, the judge typically looks for which parent is more likely to look after the interests of the child, help to foster a good relationship with the child and the other parent, etc. A drawn out dispute that leads to false allegations and actions of emotional or physical harm to a child is not going to bode well with any judge in Florida. Therefore, keeping these things at bay as parents, and trying to resolve matters in a light most favorable to the kids is more important than the financial strain of paying child support.

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Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

Family_Tree_img.jpgFlorida custody battles are not always between two parents. Florida family law allows for a third party relative to petition the court for custody in certain circumstances where it is in the best interest of the child. There is a presumption that a parent should have the children, but there are circumstances that can lead to the court determining that the parent, at the time, does not have the ability to care for the children and find it necessary to change custody to a third party, such as grandparents. However, Florida does not recognize grandparents to have permanent rights to the child, unless the parent’s rights are terminated, but it can be on a temporary custody basis depending on the facts.

In a recent Florida appeals case, Slover v. Meyer, 2D10-6074 (Fla. 2nd DCA February 24, 2012), the court established the standard by which to determine the modification from custody to a third party to the parent. In this case, the Mother and Father had a child and the mother eventually died. The maternal grandmother and father actually entered into a parenting plan in Colorado and the grandmother was awarded custody of the child. Due to his history of drug abuse, the father was awarded supervised visitation for one year followed by unsupervised visitation. A step-up in visitation is common when supervised visitation is ordered because it awards the parent for participating in supervised visitation and helps to establish a better bond between the parent and child. In this case, the visitation went well and the father was in drug remission for a number of years while the child lived with the grandmother in Florida.

992546_bonding.jpgFlorida same sex marriage, adoption, parental rights, and custody questions have been plaguing the courts for a number of years. As a Jacksonville family law attorney, I have been curious about how such things will play out in the legal realm and whether the Florida lawmakers will finally give us something to use as guidelines. Finally, after the Florida Supreme Court did not hear the last adoption case, another same sex question is sitting on the courthouse steps according to a Florida Times Union article . Can a same sex couple have equal rights to a child?

The latest case to be ripe for the Florida Supreme Court on same sex couple issues is presently awaiting the word as to whether it will be on the Court’s calendar in the near future. Many Florida same sex couples have been patiently waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to tackle a number of issues, including parental rights of a same sex couple. The one ripe for a decision is a case involving two women who were in a relationship until 2006. In 2004, the couple had a child after they decided that one woman would provide her egg for in vitro fertilization and the other would carry the child to term. Thus, creating a proposed shared parental responsibility for the child born to them.

The couple subsequently separated in 2006 and the birth mother moved to Australia with the child without the knowledge and consent of the biological mother. After years of searching, the birth mother and child were located and the biological mother sued for parental right and custody of the child.

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