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Courts Must Not Base Their Child Custody Decisions on Speculation About the Future


The decisions of the family courts are not just about the exchange of money to remedy prior harms or compensate one party for financial losses; by nature, court decisions about divorce and co-parenting govern how the parties will deal with each other, financially and otherwise, for at least the next several years after the decision is issued.  Of course, judges cannot predict the future.  Rather, their duty is to decide what is fair based on the current situation.  When assuming that something will happen in the future is the only choice, such as when imputing income to a former spouse for purposes of calculating alimony or child support, the court must clearly state its reasoning, and even when it does, disputes often arise.  When it comes to child custody cases, though, the Florida Supreme Court has stated clearly that the basis of the court’s decision should be what is currently in the child’s best interest, not what will be in the child’s best interest in the future.  If you are struggling with a parenting plan that is based on speculation and not on reality, contact a South Florida child custody lawyer.

What “Temporary” Means in Co-Parenting Decisions

When Shawn and Josette Arthur divorced in 2007, their daughter was 16 months old, and Josette wanted to move out of Florida with her.  The trial court ruled that, because the child was so young, it was in her best interest to have frequent in-person contact with both parents, which would require both parents to stay in the same geographic area.  It reasoned that children under the age of three are only capable of bonding with family members with whom they frequently spend time in person; their verbal skills and narrative memory are not yet well developed enough to maintain a meaningful relationship by telephone between in-person visits.  The court went on to say that, once the child reached the age of three, Josette was permitted to move out of state with her, because at that point, it would be in her best interest for Josette to do so.

Shawn appealed the decision, and the case went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court ruled that, unlike decisions about periodic alimony that is set to decrease at certain intervals or terminate on a certain date, decisions about children’s best interests cannot make assumptions about the future.  Instead, it said, the trial court should have ruled that Josette could not move the child out of Florida before her third birthday and if, after the child turned three, Josette still wanted to move with her, the parties could have returned to court to reevaluate the child’s best interest at that time.

Contact Us Today for Help

A Boca Raton child custody lawyer can help you modify your parenting plan or child support agreement if circumstances have changed since the original court order was issued.  Contact Schwartz | White for help.




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