Tag: Child custody & free speech

You Can’t Post That: Free Speech and Child Custody

Free Speech and child custody becomes an issue every time someone posts photos of children on social media. Glowing grandparents should be especially careful. That’s because in the European Union, balancing freedom of speech and privacy has become much trickier after a Dutch court ordered a grandma to take down photos of her grandchildren.

Free Speech and Custody

European Union Speech Laws

In the Netherlands, a woman was asked by her daughter to take down pictures of her children from Facebook and Pinterest several times, but she did not respond. The daughter took this little family dispute to court, and asked a judge to stop her.

A judge in the province of Gelderland, in the eastern part of the country, decided that the grandmother was prohibited from posting photos on social media of her three grandchildren without the permission of her daughter, the children’s mother.

The District Court judge said grandma violated Europe’s sweeping internet privacy law, called the General Data Protection Regulation, or G.D.P.R. In the Netherlands, the G.D.P.R. dictates that posting pictures of minors under the age of 16 requires permission from their legal guardians.

The women, whose names were not provided in the court documents, fell out about a year ago and hadn’t been in regular contact, according to filings in the court case. After the children’s mother asked for the pictures to be deleted without the desired effect, she took the case to court.

Publishing the children’s pictures on social media would, according to the mother, seriously violate their privacy.

The Gelderland judge agreed that the grandmother did not have permission to post the pictures under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation.

Those rules do not normally apply to the storage of personal data within personal circles such as family. However, in this case, the grandmother had made the photos public without the consent of the mother — who has legal authority over which data of her underage children may be stored and shared.’

Florida Free Speech and Child Custody

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children. Florida courts have to balance a parent’s right of free expression against the state’s parens patriae interest in assuring the well-being of minor children. Currently, grandparents have little to no rights to visitation in Florida.

In Florida, there have been cases in which a judge prohibited a parent from speaking Spanish to a child. A mother went from primary caregiver to only supervised visits – under the nose of a time-sharing supervisor. The trial judge also allowed her daily telephone calls with her daughter, supervised by the Father.

The Mother was Venezuelan, and because the Father did not speak Spanish, the court ordered: “Under no circumstances shall the Mother speak Spanish to the child.”

The judge was concerned about the Mother’s comments, after the Mother “whisked” the child away from the time-sharing supervisor in an earlier incident and had a “private” conversation with her in a public bathroom. She was also bipolar and convicted of two crimes.

The appeals court reversed the restriction. Ordering a parent not to speak Spanish violates the freedom of speech and right to privacy.

Not unlike the new EU law, Florida law tries to balance the burden placed on the right of free expression essential to the furtherance of the state’s interests in promoting the best interests of children. In other words, in that balancing act, the best interests of children can be a compelling state interest justifying a restraint of a parent’s right of free speech.

As the Windmill Turns

The Dutch court also held that by posting of photographs on social media, the grandmother made them available to a wider audience, the court’s ruling, published earlier this month, explained.

“On Facebook, it cannot be ruled out that placed photos could be distributed and that they may come into the hands of third parties”.

The judge ordered the grandmother must remove the pictures of her grandchildren from Facebook and Pinterest within ten days, the judge ruled. If she does not, she must pay a penalty of €50 ($55) per day that the photos are online, with a maximum penalty of €1,000 ($1,100).

The daughter had asked to impose a penalty of €250 ($275) per day if the photos remained. According to the mother’s statement, publishing the children’s pictures on social media can seriously violate their privacy.

GDPR is the European Union’s data privacy law, which came into effect in 2018. It gives people more control over their personal data and forces companies to make sure the way they collect, process and store data is safe.

The EU’s intention was to achieve a fundamental change in the way companies use data — with its central idea being that people are entitled “privacy by default.” Although EU countries seem to have taken their data protection obligations under the GDPR seriously, their efforts to balance data privacy and freedom of expression have been more uneven.

Many are concerned that the GDPR’s safeguards to protect the right to data privacy may compromise freedom of expression. As the practice of enforcing the GDPR by family members continues to unfolds, many are watching if the EU can balance privacy and freedom of expression.

The CNN article is here.

 

Child Custody and Speech Restrictions

Divorce can be stressful. Parents going through a high conflict child custody case often say and post things they come to regret. Children are the victims. In order to protect children, courts sometimes order speech restrictions in child custody cases, limiting what a parent can say, and removing posts from social media. That’s when the first amendment comes into play.

Custody Speech Restrictions

Boston Legal

Ronnie Shak and Masha M. Shak were married for about 15 months and had one child together. The mother filed for divorce when the child was one year old and then filed an emergency motion to remove the father from the marital home, citing his aggressive physical behavior, temper, threats, and substance abuse.

A Family Court judge ordered the father to leave the marital home, granted the mother sole custody of the child, and after the mother requested it, prohibited the father from posting disparaging remarks about her and the case on social media:

Neither party shall disparage the other — nor permit any third party to do so — especially when within hearing range of the child. Neither party shall post any comments, solicitations, references or other information regarding this litigation on social media.

The mother then moved for civil contempt alleging that the father violated the first orders by publishing numerous social media posts and commentary disparaging her and detailing the specifics of the divorce on social media. The Father argued this was an unfair prior restraint on his speech.

A second family judge, then modified the order stating:

Until the parties have no common children under the age of [fourteen] years old, neither party shall post on any social media or other Internet medium any disparagement of the other party when such disparagement consists of comments about the party’s morality, parenting of or ability to parent any minor children. Such disparagement specifically includes but is not limited to the following expressions: ‘cunt’, ‘bitch’, ‘whore’, ‘motherfucker’, and other pejoratives involving any gender. The Court acknowledges the impossibility of listing herein all of the opprobrious vitriol and their permutations within the human lexicon.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court granted direct appellate review.

Florida Child Custody and Speech Restrictions

I’ve written about divorce and speech issues before. How you speak to the other parent and the child, and what you post online, can have a big impact on your child custody case.

In fact, Florida Statutes expressly require a family court judge to consider how each parent protects their child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.

Family courts have a lot of power to protect children in custody cases. Florida courts have to balance a parent’s right of free expression against the state’s interest in assuring the well-being of minor children.

In other words, the court performs a balancing act using the best interests of children, which can be a compelling state interest justifying a restraint of a parent’s right of free speech, as the measure.

Back in the Back Bay

The High Court held the second judge’s additional language still violated the First Amendment. The State has a compelling interest in protecting children from being exposed to disparagement between their parents.

However, as important as it is to protect a child from the emotional and psychological harm that might follow from one parent’s use of vulgar or disparaging words about the other, merely reciting that interest is not enough to satisfy the heavy burden of justifying a prior restraint.

Here, there was never a showing made linking communications by either parent to any grave, imminent harm to the child. As a toddler, the child was too young to be able to either read or to access social media. The concern about potential harm that could occur if the child were to discover the speech in the future is speculative and cannot justify a prior restraint.

The court did list remedies to deal with disparaging speech. For example, a couple can enter non-disparagement agreements voluntarily, a parent may have the option of seeking a harassment prevention order, or sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress or defamation.

Judges, who must determine the best interests of the child, can also make clear to the parties that their behavior, including any disparaging language, will be factored into any subsequent custody determinations.

The Reason article is here.

 

Emergency Child Custody and Good Coronavirus Info

For one Miami emergency room physician, who was told to decide between her job or her daughter, the coronavirus has been a nightmare. That’s because family judges are having to make emergency child custody decisions – sometimes against our first-responders. There’s also some good coronavirus information.

ER Custody

ER Court

The coronavirus is a global pandemic. State of emergencies have been declared around the country. Currently, there are over 800,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and roughly 47,00 deaths according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

In Miami, an ER doctor had to leave her 5 year old child indefinitely with a man she alleges repeatedly physically beat her during the marriage. Yet, a Miami judge granted the father’s motion to temporarily modify timesharing due to the mother’s heightened exposure to COVID-19 and award her equivalent makeup time when the emergency is lifted.

Due to the mother’s employment as an emergency room physician, this Court is concerned with her exposure to COVID-19 while exercising timesharing with the minor child.

In order to protect the best interests of the minor child, including but not limited to the minor child’s safety and welfare, the Court temporarily suspended her timesharing until further Order of Court. That means the father will exercise 100% timesharing.

The court also ordered that the mother is entitled to equivalent make up timesharing for each day lost as a result of this temporary suspension of timesharing, and to daily Skype, FaceTime, and/or telephonic communication with the minor child.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody before – especially as it relates to spanking and punishment. Florida does not use the term “custody” anymore, we have the parenting plan concept. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

The best interests of the child are determined by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including the mental and physical health of the parents. What about emergencies?

Florida courts have long recognized that there can be extraordinary circumstances, and trial courts have to enter emergency temporary orders modifying custody of a child. Sometimes the court has to do so without even giving prior notice to the other side.

However, such an order requires a true emergency situation, such as where a child is threatened with physical harm or is about to be improperly removed from the state.

But trial courts have to make every reasonable effort to allow both parties to be heard before issuing an emergency modification order. When prior notice isn’t possible, an opportunity to be heard should be made as soon thereafter as possible.

If an order doesn’t make such a showing they are consistently overturned unless there is evidence of a sufficient emergency.

The Good Doctor

Back in Miami, the ER doctor’s lawyers argued that if the Court’s ruling stands, the doctor would not be able to see her child until May 31st, when the Courts may reopen and leave this child for 60 consecutive days with the father without any access to the mother.

As the mother argued:

Is she to presume that she will not see her child for an unknown period beyond May 31st? How could this possibly be in the best interest of the minor child? Is it the stance of the Family Court that any medical professional who may come into contact with Covid-19 patients should have their timesharing suspended indefinitely?

An extraordinary writ was filed with the Third District Court of appeal, and temporarily, the doctor will continue to split custody time with her ex-husband after an appeals court ruled in favor of her motion to stay the order while the appellate court continues to decide on the judge’s initial order.

Good Coronavirus Information

While there is no game plan, here’s some information on when we can return to work:

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, recently predicted a gradual reopening of parts of the country, perhaps starting as soon as May 2020. However, that depends on the virus and mitigation efforts.
  • Reopening the economy will happen gradually, with ongoing monitoring for renewed outbreaks.
  • In the coming weeks, a drop in COVID-19 cases is expected across the US.
  • Once that happens, public health experts and national, state, and local leaders will likely give the go-ahead for employers across many industries to gradually reopen, and employees will return to work.

The NBC Miami article is here.

 

Free Speech and the Stark’s Divorce

Pity the Starks of the North. As if the Red Wedding wasn’t enough, now they filed for divorce. To keep things calm, the divorce court restrained them from harassing, abusing, or making disparaging remarks about the other in front of their children and employers. Then things went south.

Winter is Coming

After a five-year marriage, Pamela Stark filed for divorce from her husband, Joe Stark. She is an attorney (formerly a prosecutor) and filed her complaint pro se. He is a sergeant with the Memphis Police Department.

Pamela’s email to the town mayor claimed she was a victim of domestic violence by Joe and a victim of misconduct by the entire Police Department in the handling of her investigation.

She named her husband by name and rank and described her version of the physical altercation between them and the events that followed. Pam asked the mayor in an email to “look into this before it goes further.”

Pamela also wrote the following in a Facebook post:

I speak now as a recent victim of domestic violence at the hands of a Memphis Police Officer. I can attest to how wide the thin blue line can get . . . However it is even more devastating. Who do you turn to when those worn to serve and protect and enforce the law, don’t.

Joe asked the divorce court to order the Facebook post removed, arguing “that such dissemination of these allegations could cause immediate irreparable harm to his reputation and employment” because he and Pam have mutual friends on Facebook. The judge agreed.

Florida Divorce and Free Speech

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children in custody cases. Florida courts have to balance a parent’s right of free expression against the state’s interest in assuring the well-being of minor children.

In one Florida case, a judge prohibited a parent from speaking Spanish to a child. The Mother was Venezuelan, and because the Father did not speak Spanish, the court ordered: “Under no circumstances shall the Mother speak Spanish to the child.”

In the Florida case, the judge was concerned about the Mother’s comments, after the Mother “whisked” the child away from the time-sharing supervisor in an earlier incident and had a “private” conversation with her in a public bathroom. She was also bipolar and convicted of two crimes.

An appellate court reversed the restriction. Ordering a parent not to speak Spanish violates the freedom of speech and right to privacy. Florida law tries to balance the burden placed on the right of free expression essential to the furtherance of the state’s interests in promoting the best interests of children.

In other words, in that balancing act, the best interests of children can be a compelling state interest justifying a restraint of a parent’s right of free speech.

Chilling Speech

Joe testified that his co-workers at the police department saw Pam’s Facebook post, that they have many mutual friends on social media, and that a special prosecutor from another city was appointed to conduct an investigation regarding the alleged incident of domestic violence involving him and Pam.

The trial court ordered that the post be removed:

  • The Court: Ms. Stark, please stand. Are you going to comply with this Court’s orders?
  • Ms. Stark: No, I’m not.
  • The Court: All right. I’m making a finding that you are in direct contempt of court by willfully refusing to comply with this Court’s orders. You will be held held in custody until such time that you decide that you want to change your position and you apologize to this Court.

Pam at first refused to take down the post, but was jailed for four hours and then did. Pam appealed the contempt order. However, the divorce case in which the restraining order was entered was still pending.

Because she appealed from the contempt order, she was limited in her ability to raise issues, and when Pam took down the Facebook post, the contempt issue became moot.

The Reason article is here.

 

Banning Sex While Separated

Are you looking to dive back into the dating pool while you are going through a divorce or child custody battle? If so, did you know there are bills which would ban sex while separated and even from having sex at home until all legal proceedings are finalized? This post considers the hot topic of dating during the divorce and child custody process.

Banning Sex While Separated

Prudish Pilgrims

One measure, first proposed in Massachusetts, would make it illegal for parents in going through a divorce to engage in a dating or sexual relationship with anyone within the marital home. The Massachusetts measure, which was first proposed a few years ago and has not passed yet, seems highly improbable of ever passing.

The Bill provides:

“In divorce, separation, or 209A proceedings involving children and a marital home, the party remaining in the home shall not conduct a dating or sexual relationship within the home until a divorce is final and all financial and custody issues are resolved, unless the express permission is granted by the courts.”

It is a big question whether a bill like the Massachusetts proposal could ever pass a state legislature.

Florida & Sex While Separated

I’ve written about child custody issues before, including how spanking can impact custody. First, Florida does not use the term “custody” anymore, we have the parenting plan concept. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

The best interests of the child are determined by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including evidence of the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.

Additionally, courts are supposed to consider the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity and the moral fitness of the parents.

Banning Sex for Sox Fans

While some couples use separation as an opportunity to decide whether or not they can salvage their marriage, others are left simply waiting until they can finalize their divorce.  Separated couples want a defined set of rules regarding dating and sex after separation. The Massachusetts bill, were it to pass, could have implications many have not thought of.

Many people would be surprised to know that adultery is a crime in Florida. Whoever lives in an open state of adultery may be guilty of a crime in Florida. Where either of the parties living in an open state of adultery is married, both parties shall be deemed to be guilty of the offense provided for in this section. A criminal record of adultery could be problematic.

Having sex during the separation does not automatically prohibit you from receiving support or alimony, however, evidence of it may be a factor a court looks to in modifying or terminating alimony based on the existence of a supportive relationship.

Sexual relations during separation may affect custody when and if it impacts the children.  A family court judge has to consider what is in the children’s best interests when determining custody.  Whether or not this affects the children’s best interest depends on the surrounding circumstances. Divorce and child custody proceedings are an emotional process. Moving on with someone new too quickly may make it harder to resolve the case.

The Massachusetts bill is here.

 

An Erie Child Custody and Free Speech Case

A Pennsylvania family court gave a mother sole custody of her 14 and 11-year old daughters, but prohibited her from discussing their Father’s inappropriate statements which he made to the mother’s 17-year old stepdaughter. This post examines if a court in a child custody case can prohibit free speech.

free speech custody

Talking Parents

A Mother and Father were married but separated. The parties lived together with the children from their marriage and with Mother’s daughter from a previous relationship. In January 2017, the Father made statements of a sexual nature to the 17-year old daughter.

The exact substance of Father’s statements are unknown, but the Mother testified that he told her he “had a crush on her,” that he “wanted to date her,” and that he and Mother “hadn’t had sex for so many months.” The father’s statements caused the parties’ separation.

The Mother testified that she told her daughter “some . . . but not all” of Father’s statements to her eldest daughter because the daughter was becoming agitated and withdrawn and “was really needing some answers.”

The Mother requested that the daughter not have any further contact with Father unless it occurs in a “controlled environment. Conversely, she testified the younger daughter remains oblivious to Father’s statements and wants to continue spending time with him.

The Father testified that he had made an effort to cooperate with Mother’s requests and convince her that he does not pose a threat to the Children. He reported that he attended counseling with his pastor for the last fifteen months, but that he would be willing to seek treatment from a new counselor as well.

Florida Free Speech and Child Custody

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children in custody cases. Florida courts have to balance a parent’s right of free expression against the state’s parens patriae interest in assuring the well-being of minor children.

In Florida, a judge prohibited a parent from speaking Spanish to a child in one case. A mother went from primary caregiver to only supervised visits – under the nose of a time-sharing supervisor. The trial judge also allowed her daily telephone calls with her daughter, supervised by the Father.

The Mother was Venezuelan, and because the Father did not speak Spanish, the court ordered: “Under no circumstances shall the Mother speak Spanish to the child.”

The judge was concerned about the Mother’s comments, after the Mother “whisked” the child away from the time-sharing supervisor in an earlier incident and had a “private” conversation with her in a public bathroom. She was also bipolar and convicted of two crimes.

An appellate court reversed the restriction. Ordering a parent not to speak Spanish violates the freedom of speech and right to privacy. Florida law tries to balance the burden placed on the right of free expression essential to the furtherance of the state’s interests in promoting the best interests of children.

In other words, in that balancing act, the best interests of children can be a compelling state interest justifying a restraint of a parent’s right of free speech.

An Erie Case

On October 25, 2018, the family judge in Erie, Pennsylvania ordered that Father would exercise unsupervised partial physical custody of the youngest daughter and that Mother:

“shall not relay, or cause to have relayed, any information to the daughter regarding the facts and circumstances of Father’s inappropriate communications with her half-sister absent Father’s consent or further order of court.”

The Mother argued that the provision in the court’s order prohibiting her from informing her daughter of Father’s statements was improper, because it violated her first Amendment rights, prevented her from protecting the child from abuse, and made her responsible should the sister inform the daughter of Father’s statements.

The Mother asserts that a court may restrict a parent’s speech only when it is causing or will cause harm to a child’s welfare. She maintains that informing her daughter of Father’s statements may actually protect her from future abuse.

The appellate court ruled that the trial court’s determination that it would be in the child’s best interest to prohibit Mother from informing her of Father’s statements was not supported in the record.

While the court found that learning of Father’s statements would be harmful to the child, the court based this conclusion solely on the fact that the older sister does not want to see Father and attends counseling.

The court heard no testimony from the child’s counselor, or from any other individual qualified to give an opinion on if, when, or how, the child should learn of these statements, or what harm she might experience as a result. Therefore, the court’s conclusion in this regard was speculative.

The appellate opinion is here.

 

Child Custody and Punishment

Years of research has shown that spanking children is ineffective and may be harmful. The American Academy of Pediatrics just announced a new policy that parents not spank, hit or slap their children. With all the new research out there, people are discovery that there is a connection between child custody and punishment.

custody and punishment

New Corporal Punishment Policy

The new AAP policy against spanking reflects decades of critical new research on the effects of corporal punishment and because parents and educators put enormous trust in pediatricians for discipline advice.

When your pediatrician says not to spank, there is a very good chance that parents will listen. The other good news is that it is becoming unacceptable to use corporal punishment.

Some hospitals have a “no hit zone” policy that do not allow hitting of any kind, including parents spanking children. City leaders in Stoughton, Wisconsin made their whole cities into “no hit zones” – similar to no smoking zones.

Florida Custody and Punishment

I’ve written about child custody and punishment before. Florida does not use the term “custody” anymore, we have the parenting plan concept. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

The best interests of the child are determined by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

Historically, parents have always had a right to discipline their child in a ‘reasonable manner.’ So, our laws recognize that corporal discipline of a child by a parent for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.

Harm, by the way, does not mean just bruises or welts for instance. Harm also means that the discipline is likely to result in physical injury, mental injury, or emotional injury. Even if you don’t physically harm a child, your actions could be criminal.

Florida’s parental privilege to use corporal discipline does not give absolute immunity either. Your run-of-the-mill spanking may be protected from charges of child abuse, but punching your child, pushing him onto the floor and kicking him is not.

Keep in mind that lawyers, guardians and judges are watching you, and you don’t want your punishment methods to become an issue in your custody case. While there are some limited privileges for discipline, there are major risks to your custody case, and most importantly, to your children.

Spanking Doesn’t Work

There are practical reasons to stop spanking besides custody. The main one is that it does not work. Numerous studies show that spanking does not make children better behaved in the long run, and in fact makes their behavior worse.

Spanking also teaches children that it is acceptable to use physical force to get what you want. It is thus no surprise that the more children are spanked, the more aggressive or to engage in delinquent behaviors like stealing they may be.

Millions of parents have raised well-adjusted children without spanking. Nothing is perfect, but telling children clearly what you expect from them and then praising them when they do it is the best approach to discipline.

The CNN article is here.

 

Joint Physical Custody

Former NFL wide receiver, Hank Baskett, answered his former Playboy model wife’s divorce petition last week, and is asking for joint physical custody of their two children. What is joint physical custody, and is it something you should ask for in Florida?

Penalty Flags

Baskett is a former wide receiver who played in the NFL for the Vikings, the Eagles and the Colts. While at the University of New Mexico, he was a leading wide receiver and earned all-academic honors.

Baskett married Playboy model Kendra Wilkinson in 2009. Wilkinson and Baskett were co-stars on Kendra, a reality TV series following Wilkinson’s life. They have co-starred on another show, Kendra on Top, since June 2012.

His wife announced her intention to divorce on Instagram. A few years ago, she received bad press when she criticized people who had a problem with a photo she posted to her Instagram account of her daughter, stating:

“Wow by my last post I just exposed all you sick f**ks… [m]an, this world is more f**ked up than I thought, I’ll go ahead and go back to my vacation while we run around naked n free.”

According to People, in the former NFL player’s filing submitted Friday, Baskett cited irreconcilable differences as the reason for the divorce after 9 years of marriage according to court documents obtained by The Blast.

Mirroring his wife’s filing, Baskett listed their date of separation as Jan. 1, 2018, and requested joint legal and physical custody of their two children.

Many people are surprised to learn when they file for divorce or custody in Florida that joint legal and physical custody is not available in Florida.

Florida Shared Parental Responsibility

I’ve written about child custody issues before. In 1979, the first joint custody statute was enacted in California. The joint legal custody law promoted more paternal involvement after divorce.

In 2008, Florida modified its custody laws to get rid of outdated and negative terminology about divorcing parents and their children to reduce animosity.

The law did that by deleting the definitions of the terms “custodial parent” or “primary residential parent” and “noncustodial parent” and creating a definition for the terms “shared parental responsibility, “parenting plan”, and “time-sharing schedule.

Shared parental responsibility, is similar to joint physical and legal custody, and is a relationship in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child.

In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Florida’s public policy comes from the literature proving the importance of a father’s contributions to a child’s development and a child’s attachment to a father, gender roles within families are shifting, and the documented loss and alienation experienced by noncustodial parents and children.

Custody Touchdown

The former Playboy model’s filing came hours after she confirmed in an Instagram post that the couple had chosen to split.

“Today is the last day of my marriage to this beautiful man. I will forever love Hank and be open but for now we have chosen to go our own ways.”

The People article is here.

 

Extracurriculars and Child Custody

A contentious issue in child custody cases is a child’s extracurricular activity. The decision may be easy when the sport is badminton, but litigation is not out of bounds when the activity involves football – especially in a big football state like Florida.

Tackling Extracurricular Decision Making

As the New York Times reports, there are always questions regarding whether the child will participate in extracurricular activities. The typical questions involve which activities, who pays the costs, and scheduling the activity so it doesn’t infringe on the other parents’ timesharing are easy enough to punt.

In shared parental responsibility cases, the issue of extracurricular activities can be very divisive – especially when choosing an injury-prone sport like skateboarding and football.

How do courts tackle the issue?

Extracurricular activities are closely related to decisions about education and schooling, and the parent with sole, or ultimate decision-making authority over education, makes the final decision concerning extracurricular activities as well.

But in a shared parental responsibility case, the decision can be easily fumbled.

Florida Shared Parental Responsibility

I’ve written about parental responsibility choices before. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child.

In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s extracurricular activities, including the decision to participate in dangerous sports, are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child.

When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court.

At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

A Custody Touchdown?

In the decade since scientists began to link football to long-term brain damage, the debate over the future of the sport has moved from research laboratories to the halls of Congress, to locker rooms and parents’ kitchen tables.

The growing number of disputes over the long-term consequences of football has put family court judges in the awkward position of having to pick sides on a hotly debated issue.

In most states, such as Florida, family court judges are charged with ruling in the best interests of a child’s health. In the case of sports like hang gliding or rock climbing, the dangers may be self-evident.

But the science around the long-term cognitive and neurological damage caused by football is still emerging.

Judges who side with parents trying to prevent their sons from playing tackle football end up endorsing the view that the sport is too risky, a stance that might be unpopular with voters who elect them.

Judges who side with parents who want their son to play, on the other hand, risk being accused of not being prudent enough if the boy is injured.

The New York Times article is here.

 

Child Custody and Choosing Religion

The mother was Christian and the father a Muslim, but she converted to Islam when they married. After they separated, the mother reverted to Christianity. When parents share or have joint child custody, who decides the child’s religion? A New York appellate court just gave the answer.

Choosing My Religion

A Brooklyn couple divorced in 2009 with one child. Their settlement agreement gave them joint legal custody, and the mother had primary physical custody.

The agreement made them consult with each other about the child’s religion, but did not specify which religion the child would be raised. The mother taught the child Christian values and practices.

The child complained the father was pressuring her to adopt Muslim practices and threatened to abcond with her to his native Morocco if she failed to follow Muslim practices and customs.

The child asked the mother to call the police and school personnel. The mother filed for sole legal custody, and the father petitioned to enforce visitation and to enforce a purported oral agreement that the child would be raised as a Muslim.

Florida Custody and Religion

I have published an article on the intersection of religion and custody before, especially when that intersection relates to harm to the child.

For example in one area there is a frequent religious controversy: whether to give a child their mandatory vaccinations.  Usually, religion is used by the objecting parent as a defense to vaccinating children.

Whenever a court decides custody, the sine qua non is the best interests of the child. But, deciding the religious upbringing of a child puts the court in a tough position.

There is nothing in our custody statute allowing a court to consider religion as a factor in custody, and a court’s choosing one parent’s religious beliefs over another’s, probably violates the Constitution.

So, unless there is actual harm being done to the child by the religious upbringing, it would seem that deciding the child’s faith is out of bounds for a judge.

Ironically, that may not be the rule all over Florida. Different appellate courts in Florida have slightly different takes on the issue, and the question of whether a trial court can consider a parent’s religious beliefs as a factor in determining custody has been allowed.

The Brooklyn, New York case involved the modification of an existing joint custody order.

In Florida, the person seeking modification of custody must show both that the circumstances have substantially, materially changed since the original custody order, and that the child’s best interests justify changing custody. Additionally, the substantial change must be one that was not reasonably contemplated at the time of the original judgment.

Losing My Religion

Back in Brooklyn, the Family Court granted the mother’s to modify joint custody, and give her sole legal custody but granted the father liberal visitation, including on all major Muslim holidays.

The parties’ inability to agree on the child’s religion, the change in the child’s relationship with the father, her fear of his displeasure for not being a “true Muslim,” and her belief that he’d kidnap her to Morocco, constituted changes in circumstances.

The appellate court held that awarding the Mother sole decision-making authority with respect to religion was in the child’s best interests because the father’s actual or perceived insistence that the child follow Islam and threats to abscond to Morocco had a serious adverse effect on the child’s relationship.

The opinion in Baala v. Baala is here.