In Florida, child
custody determinations—"time-sharing," as it is called—are made based on what is in the "best interests of the child." This is a standard that arises time and again in
law. It requires courts to evaluate every possible relevant factor, including the ability of each parent to honor the time-sharing schedule, the anticipated division of parental responsibilities, the moral fitness of the parents, and the mental and physical health of the parents.
The relevant statute actually contains 20 such factors, but expressly notes that this is a non-exclusive list. Anything that could bear on the child's best interests plays a part in custody decisions.
Changing the Time-Sharing Schedule
While initial determinations of child custody only require assessing the best interests of the child,
changing those determinations requires much more. Under
law, modification of a time-sharing plan also "requires a showing of a substantial, material, and unanticipated change of circumstances."
Florida courts have called this burden "extraordinary."
For example, in the 2010 case of Sanchez
v. Hernandez, a father requested modification of the child custody time-sharing plan. He described a communication breakdown between himself and his child's mother. He alleged that the mother repeatedly and unilaterally made important decisions in the child's life and that, when the child was with her mother, he would rarely speak to her.
Moreover, he complained that the mother had not properly kept him apprised of their child's medical issues. He was only told about his daughter's dislocated shoulder and ER visits well after-the-fact.
On these facts, and more, the court granted the father's request—only to have its decision reversed by the Fourth District Court of Appeal. The appellate court considered the facts in the most favorable possible light to the father; and nevertheless, it held that his burden had not been met. The court was clear: "The father, however, needed to prove more than merely an acrimonious relationship and a lack of effective communication in order to show a substantial change."
This ruling was notwithstanding a guardian ad litem's testimony that the father and child were "very bonded" and that it would have been in the best interests of the child to live primarily with her father. Had all of these same facts been presented at the initial determination of custody and time-sharing, the child may very well have resided primarily with the father. However, because this was in the context of a modification, the time-sharing arrangement remained as-is.
Contact an Attorney to Help with Modification
If you need help requesting or navigating a modification of child custody or have any other family law-related inquiries, please reach out to our legal professionals at Hager
& Schwartz, P.A. in Miami to earn how we can help.