In a recent Florida case, a mother asks the Second District Court of Appeal to review the order denying her emergency motion to modify the temporary time-sharing order for her children with their father. The trial court’s denial of the Mother’s request for a change in the time-sharing schedule was affirmed without discussion, but the order denying relief didn’t identify the specific steps that the Mother must take to regain unsupervised time-sharing with her children. This was a critical issue.
Chief Judge Craig C. Villanti of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal wrote that when the parties initially filed for divorce, the trial court granted them roughly equal time-sharing with their children. However, in the course of the proceedings, time-sharing between the children and the Father was temporarily suspended based on allegations made by the Mother. After the allegations were determined to be false, the court ordered that the parties return to the original equal time-sharing.
Despite the judge’s order, the Mother continued to prevent the Father from seeing the children. As a result, the trial court found the Mother in contempt, gave primary residential custody to the Father, and permitted the Mother supervised time-sharing only.
As part of the contempt order, the trial court required the parties to undergo a social evaluation. After the evaluation was completed, the Mother filed an emergency motion to modify the temporary order so she could return to having unsupervised time-sharing with her children. After a hearing, the trial court denied this motion… but the judge failed to identify—either on the record or in the written order—the steps the Mother would have to take to reestablish unsupervised time-sharing with her children. The Mother argued that the court’s failure rendered the order legally deficient.
Chief Judge Villanti explained that while termination of visitation rights is disfavored, the trial court has discretion to restrict or deny visitation when necessary to protect the welfare of the children. However, when the court exercises this discretion, the chief judge noted, it’s required to clearly state the steps the parent must take to reestablish time-sharing with the children. “Essentially, the court must give the parent the key to reconnecting with his or her children,” he wrote.
An order without those specific steps deprives the parent of that key and is deficient because it prevents the parent from knowing what’s expected. In addition, it prevents any reviewing judge from monitoring the parent’s progress. The steps required to reestablish time-sharing will be different in every case because they should be designed to assist the parent in remedying the problems that led to the loss of time-sharing in the first place. While a trial court that’s identified the steps maintains the discretion to determine whether the parent has made sufficient progress to justify restoring time-sharing, the court doesn’t have discretion at the outset to refuse to tell a parent what he or she must do to restore full parental rights, Chief Judge Villanti added.
In this case, the Father acknowledged that the trial court’s order didn’t state the specific steps the Mother had to take to reestablish unsupervised time-sharing with the children. Because of this, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order to the extent that it failed to include those steps. On remand, the trial court was instructed to issue a new order detailing the steps the Mother had to take to reestablish unsupervised time-sharing. Curiale v. Curiale, 2017 Fla. App. LEXIS 8499 (Fla. DCA 2nd June 9, 2017).
DeVoe Law Firm can help you assert your rights to parental decision-making, establish timesharing and visitation schedules, modify timesharing and visitation schedules, and receive sole parental responsibility where appropriate. Contact DeVoe Law Firm to schedule a free consultation with an experienced child custody and timesharing attorney.