Tag: Paternity

Caring is Creepy

In family law, after a relationship ends, caring can be creepy. But is creepy behavior stalking? One Florida man – a father’s former boyfriend when the father’s child was born – recently found out.

caring is creepy

Gone for Good

Santiago had a long-distance relationship with the child’s father, Leon. The relationship took place at the same time the father’s child, M.L., was born through a surrogate. But Santiago and the father never resided together with the child. Their relationship ended after M.L. was about one and a half years old.

But Santiago was not gone for good. Leon sensed Santiago was following them like a phantom limb. Leon filed a petition on behalf of his child to stop Santiago from allegedly stalking the child. The father argued Santiago was engaging in some creepy obsessive behavior, including:

  1. getting a tattoo of M.L.’s name on his body;
  2. posting images of M.L. on Facebook and Instagram, representing that M.L. was his son;
  3. mailing him packages; (iv) emailing the father to express his love for M.L.;
  4. contacting the surrogate for info on them;
  5. appearing outside their home; and
  6. driving by a restaurant the father and child were eating at and making eye contact with them.

The trial court entered a final judgment preventing Santiago from having any contact with M.L. and from posting any images or comments about M.L. on all social media.

Santiago appealed.

Florida Stalking Injunctions

I’ve written about family law injunctions before, especially when free speech is impacted. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children, and that can involve restraints on free speech, such as posting on social media. That’s because speech can be enjoined under our domestic violence laws.

Domestic violence injunctions prohibiting free speech are subject to constitutional challenge because they put the government’s weight behind that prohibition: a judge orders it, and the police enforce it.

In Florida, the term “domestic violence” has a very specific meaning, and it is more inclusive than most people realize. It means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.

Domestic violence can also include cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is harassment via electronic communications. A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree.

A credible threat means a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.

New Slang

The appellate court held that Florida authorizes injunctions against stalking.

“Stalking” is when “[a] person . . . willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person.”

However, aside from finding that Santiago had engaged in “stalking-like” and “creepy” behavior, the trial court did not make any express findings with respect to any of the statutory elements for stalking.

For example, “follows” means to tail, shadow, or pursue someone. In Santiago’s case, the father established, at most, that Santiago had appeared outside the father and M.L.’s and ate at the same restaurants as the father and M.L., but Santiago was never asked to explain any of these occurrences. The court simply found Santiago’s conduct, was not an example of “following” and even if it was, it wasn’t willful and malicious.

Also, the child was “totally unaware” of Santiago’s conduct, there was no evidence that Santiago’s conduct had caused “substantial emotional distress” to the child so as to constitute “harassment.”

In the inverted world of stalking law, getting a tattoo of someone else’s child, emailing the father, mailing packages to that child, contacting the surrogate to gather intel, showing up uninvited outside the child’s home, showing up at the same restaurants at the same time, making eye contact with the child, and social media posts, didn’t amount to “harassing.”

The court found that Santiago’s online postings referenced the child, but didn’t constitute “cyberstalking” because Florida requires social media threats be directed to the individual — not by content, but by delivery.

Since social media posts are generally delivered to the world at large, Florida courts have interpreted a course of conduct directed at a specific person to exempt social media messages from qualifying as the type of conduct, and Santiago never delivered his social media posts to the child.

The court agreed Santiago’s conduct might have been “creepy”, but the to impose a permanent stalking injunction against Santiago, there must be evidence that Santiago “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly followed, harassed, or cyberstalked.”

The opinion is here.

 

Who’s Your Daddy? Florida’s New Paternity Law

If it is a wise child that knows its own father, the Florida Supreme Court just created a new paternity law last week to help children know their true fathers. The court settled whether a biological father is prohibited from establishing his parental rights to his child if the child was born to a married woman.

Not Your Father’s Paternity Law

Perkins is the biological father of his daughter. Perkins and the child’s mother, Simmonds, engaged in a three-year relationship. Unknown to Perkins, his girlfriend was already married to another man.

When Perkins – the biological father – wanted to assert his child custody rights over his daughter, Simmonds and her husband, Ferguson, objected. Ferguson – the legal father – asserted his status as the child’s legal father– by virtue of his marriage to Simmonds – to block Perkins’ rights over his daughter.

Some interesting facts about the case:

  • Perkins was at the hospital for the child’s birth. Ferguson was not.
  • Simmonds declined to have Ferguson’s name listed as on the birth certificate. Simmonds gave the child Perkins’s last name and raised the child with Perkins.
  • Perkins and Simmonds lived together with the child.
  • Perkins has taken the child to doctor’s visits and enrolled the child in day care. Perkins regularly and voluntarily paid child support to Simmonds for the child.
  • The child knows Perkins as “daddy.”

So what’s the problem?

The problem in this case is that after Perkins filed a petition to establish paternity Simmonds moved to dismiss it, saying Perkins can’t establish paternity because of the common law presumption of legitimacy. That presumption is one of the strongest in Florida law.

Florida Paternity Law

I’ve written about paternity issues before. Sadly, for Perkins, after an evidentiary hearing, the trial judge ruled that it was bound by precedent to dismiss his petition.

In Florida, a putative father had no right to seek to establish paternity of a child who was born into an intact marriage, when the married woman and her husband object.

Although the trial judge held an evidentiary hearing and found that the facts strongly indicate that allowing Perkins to have “some involvement in the child’s life” would be in the child’s best interests, the trial court ultimately concluded that it was constrained by Fourth District precedent to dismiss the petition as a matter of law.

The Father of All Custody Conflicts

There’s been a conflict among Florida courts over this issue. Florida law presumes that the husband of the biological mother of a child is the child’s legal father.

This presumption is one of the strongest rebuttable presumptions known to law and is based on the child’s interest in legitimacy and the public policy of protecting the welfare of the child.

In Florida, many courts have held that a biological father has no right to seek to establish paternity of a child who was born into an intact marriage when the married woman and her husband object.

Some courts in Florida have gone so far as to suggest that the presumption of legitimacy may never be rebutted. While others have held that the presumption of legitimacy may be rebutted in certain, rare circumstances.

Twinkle in One’s Father’s Eye: New Paternity Law

The Supreme Court resolved the conflict and determined that the presumption of legitimacy does not create an absolute bar to a biological father’s right to seek to establish his paternity when the biological father has “manifested a substantial and continuing concern” for the welfare of the child.

The presumption of legitimacy is overcome when there is a “clear and compelling reason based primarily on the child’s best interests.”

So, for Mr. Perkins, the presumption of legitimacy has been found to be rebuttable by a biological father. Evidence that the mother’s husband has abused, abandoned, or neglected the child – although relevant – is not required to establish that it would be in the child’s best interests to recognize the biological father as the legal father.

The Supreme Court opinion is available here.