The cornerstones of child custody arrangements in Florida are parenting plans. These documents outline when each parent has physical custody of the child, and the legal authority each holds over important decisions in the child’s life (education, medical care, activities, etc.). In practical terms, both parents must compromise and cooperate with one another in order for parenting plans to work, but unfortunately, not all parents are willing to follow the terms set out in this document. All parenting plans must be approved by a court so they can be legally enforced in case one party decides to violate the terms. Violations can include not returning the child at the appointed time, preventing communication between a parent and child, or taking the child out of the area without the other parent’s knowledge or permission. Florida law, understanding the seriousness of denying a parent lawful access to a child, has civil procedures and criminal penalties to deter this type of conduct.
Risk of Violation
If a parent is lucky enough to realize the other parent is planning to violate the parenting plan, that parent can ask the court to issue orders designed to stop the other parent from following through with his/her intent. However, the type of violation must relate to a parent planning to take the child out of the state or country, or conceal the child’s location. The petition must include considerable evidence demonstrating the parent’s intent (plane tickets, real estate inquiries, contacting schools, closing bank accounts, quitting a job, for example), and cannot be based on a suspicion or unsupported fear. Assuming there is sufficient evidence of a plan to leave with or conceal the child, the court can issue orders limiting the parent’s ability to take action, including:
- requiring the parent to get notarized permission from the other parent or a court order before taking the child out of the State or country;
- requiring the parent to post security or bond as a financial deterrence to taking the child;
- requiring the parent to surrender the child’s passport, or, if the child does not have one, requesting the Passport Service Office not issue a passport until further orders from the court;
- imposing restrictions on visitation, including requiring supervised visitation; or
- prohibiting the parent from picking up the child from school or daycare.
Modification of the Parenting Plan
If violations have occurred, but do not include abducting the child, a parent’s best course of action is to petition the court for a modification of the parenting plan. Parenting plans can be changed if there are substantial, material and unanticipated changes in circumstance, and it is in the best interests of the child. Ongoing efforts to prevent or limit a parent’s access to his/her child in contravention of provisions of the parenting plan would almost certainly persuade a court to modify the parenting plan. The court could give the non-offending parent sole custody or impose limited or supervised visitation for the offending parent to prevent further interference with the parenting plan.
Interference with Child Custody
Finally, if a parent has taken steps to keep a child away from another parent with custody rights, the state classifies this behavior as the crime of interference with custody. The concealment or removal of the child must be with the “malicious intent to deprive another person of his or her right to custody.” This offense is a third degree felony, which could land someone in state prison for up to five years. However, the law does grant defenses to this crime for actions taken to protect the child’s welfare or escape domestic violence.
Get Legal Advice
If you are dealing with an ex- spouse or partner who continually violates the terms of your parenting plan, do not try to fight this battle alone. Being proactive when violations begin reduce the chances of the other parent being able to take your child beyond your reach. The Tampa Bay All Family Law Group, P.A. understands what is at stake and will fight to protect the interests of you and your child. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+