Modifying timesharing to prevent the exposure of minor children to domestic violence in Florida
At the time of your divorce, you may have been comfortable with the custody and timesharing arrangements you either negotiated with your now ex-spouse or that the judge crafted in the divorce proceeding. But now, your children are telling you about violence or abuse they observed at their other parent’s home. What can you do to protect your kids from exposure to unsafe, frightening behavior that could harm them psychologically and potentially even physically?
Parenting plan modification
A March 6 case explains that under Florida law when there is an unforeseen substantial change in circumstances, the court may change the terms of a parenting plan if it would be in the child’s best interest. Florida statute requires that a court evaluate particular factors in determining a child’s best interest and – not surprisingly – domestic violence is one of the listed factors.
In Meyers v. Meyers, the District Court of Appeal in Florida’s Second District upheld the trial court’s modification of the timesharing arrangement based on substantial evidence of domestic violence perpetrated by the father’s new wife against him in the presence of his child. The court found the violence to be an unanticipated, substantial change in circumstances that supported a modification of timesharing from “50/50 to approximately 90/10,” where the trial court had observed that the father seemed unaware that the new relationship was abusive.
Observing family violence is harmful to kids
The judge in the trial had worried that the father was willing to expose the child to domestic violence, which could be “potentially extremely damaging,” citing for support another case in which the appeals court found that a mother’s remarriage to a registered sex offender justified modification of visitation where she regularly allowed the child to be around her new husband.
The appeals court in Meyers reasoned that Florida state courts have protected kids by finding that “parents engaging in domestic violence in front of their children constitutes an unanticipated, material and substantial change in circumstances supporting modification of a timesharing arrangement.” The court described other opinions in which Florida judges have said that a child does not have to be the object of domestic violence for them to be subject to potential damage – that even the awareness that it is taking place while they are in their parent’s care is harmful to a minor child.
Any Floridian concerned about their child’s exposure to domestic violence while at their other parent’s home should speak immediately with an attorney to understand what steps to take.
(The opinion in Meyers v. Meyers is available on Westlaw at 2020 WL 1070940.)