Stuart N. House, P.A.

Who Determines Children’s Vaccinations and Treatment?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

When parents can't agree, child custody lawyers often step in

Making medical decisions for a child is a parental responsibility. Pursuant to Florida Statute 61.13(2), parental responsibility should be shared by both parents unless shared parental responsibility is determined to be detrimental to the child. Florida Statute 61.046(17) defines shared parental responsibility as "a court-ordered relationship in which both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child and in which both parents confer with each other so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly."

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When it comes to medical decisions like whether a child will be vaccinated or whether a child will be prescribed a certain medication, parents are supposed to make a decision together, even if they are no longer a couple. Florida Statute 61.13(2) requires that parents submit a parenting plan which spells out who is responsible for healthcare decisions. This requirement provides a useful opportunity for parents to discuss healthcare decisions in advance, before an emergency arises.

Disagreements frequently arise

Unfortunately, situations do arise when well-meaning parents have diametrically opposed opinions regarding a healthcare decision. For example, one parent is convinced that a child suffers from ADHD and requires a prescription for this condition. The other parent is vigorously opposed to this course of treatment due to religious, ethical or other reasons. If the parents are unable to reach agreement, they may choose to litigate. The parent seeking (or opposing) treatment would need to plead in court that shared parental responsibility regarding healthcare decisions is detrimental to the child. The parent could also request that the court grant ultimate decision-making authority to one parent. If the parents are in the process of divorce, the request for ultimate decision-making authority regarding medical decisions would be part of the petition for dissolution of marriage. If the parents are already divorced, or were never married, the parents would likely need to have an a Coral Springs child custody attorney work on their behalf to file a supplemental petition for modification or initiate an action specifically to establish parental responsibility and decision-making rights.

Detriment to the child must be proven

A parent seeking the ultimate right to make medical decisions must prove that detriment to the child will occur if shared parental responsibility continues. The court may order that a guardian ad litem become involved to investigate allegations affecting the child. The role of the guardian ad litem is discussed in Florida Statute 61.403. A guardian ad litem is appointed to advance the best interest of the child. This person may interview the child and any other person having information concerning the child’s welfare. The guardian ad litem may inspect the child’s medical records and any other records relevant to the child's welfare. He or she may even request expert examinations of the child and the child's parents by medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, or other mental health professionals. The court often orders that the fees and costs of the guardian ad litem are borne by both parents.

Parents seeking ultimate decision-making authority regarding a child's healthcare should be prepared with facts and credible evidence. They should also be prepared to cooperate fully with the guardian ad litem if one is appointed. The court's primary consideration when considering which parent will make medical decisions will be the child's best interest, as dictated by the laws governing Coral Springs and Parkland.

When Do Judges Use Discretionary Powers?

Friday, August 26, 2016

While many people know that family law judges find facts, decide cases, and interpret the law, many are unfamiliar with the concept of "discretionary powers." Judicial discretion allows Florida judges to exercise judgment based on what, in their opinion, is fair under the under the given circumstances while also following the rules and principles of the law. The concept of judicial discretion has a long history in both American and English law.

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Source of Powers of Discretion

Judicial discretion is derived from several sources. Statutes often grant discretion by stating that a judge may or may not elect to do something in matters involving a particular law. However, just because a judge may exercise discretion does not necessarily mean he or she will deviate from previous rulings in similar cases. The rules of civil and criminal procedure are also teeming with examples in which a judge may exercise discretion. Certain areas of law, including family law, juvenile, and probate generally allow for greater judicial exercise of powers of discretion than others.

Child Custody Fact-Finding Missions

Judges presiding over family law cases have a fact-finding role in motion hearings, bench trials, and also as case managers in jury trials. They are permitted to exercise discretionary power in determining what evidence will be allowed, how the evidence will be considered by the judge or jury, and what remedies are available. In family law cases, judges use discretionary powers in deciding what they feel is best for the children. These powers come into play frequently in complex child custody cases.

Discretionary Powers in Evidence

Evidence that is presented at trial is subject to the broadest exercise of judicial discretion. Not only do judges determine whether evidence will be allowed or disallowed, but once these determinations are made, cases are rarely overturned based on evidentiary rulings. Therefore, choosing a Coral Springs child custody lawyer who has a great deal of knowledge and experience in presenting and arguing admissibility of evidence is of great importance.

Weighing Factors

Often, a judge may be required to weigh certain factors in making a determination. In the absence of language stating otherwise, judges are not restricted from weighing certain factors more than others. In family court matters, judges must consider that no two cases are identical; therefore, factors may be weighed differently when deciding a child or divorcing family's best interest.

Making the Most of It

While some may be frightened by the notion of judges having so much flexibility, powers of discretion also may provide an opportunity for more individuals to receive a fair, equitable outcome. For this reason, individuals who are involved in a criminal or civil case should retain a lawyer in the interest of winning pretrial motions, which generally are much more difficult to effectively appeal, and in putting their best foot forward before the court. A lawyer can personalize a case to help the court view his or her client as a human being versus simply a plaintiff or a defendant. Excellent presentation can bring a client's story to life when a judge is otherwise limited to the details that are printed on paper.

Winning Favor

In instances in which an appearance before a judge is necessary, individuals may improve their probability of success by making a positive impression on the judge. Dressing appropriately, remaining calm and reasonable, and listening intently and respectfully are basic practices that will likely influence the judge and impact his or her decision-making to an extent. For most people, the first step to understanding discretionary power and its role in the criminal or civil matters they face is to seek out a helpful attorney. Having the guidance of a knowledgeable child custody attorney in Coral Springs can ensure that individuals better understand their case and are adequately prepare for their court appearance, if necessary. Furthermore, an experienced custody lawyer can provide reliable answers to your questions in addition to explaining the concept of discretionary power, its potential impact in the case at hand, and ways in which judicial discretion may be leveraged in your favor.

What Will I Face In My Parenting Course?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

When a Coral Springs couple with children opts for divorce, the court may encourage the parents to attend parenting courses in the interest of equipping the separating couple to move forward with sharing child custody. Parenting classes generally do not focus on teaching the separating spouses to maintain a relationship with each other. Instead, these courses emphasize co-parenting, which is aimed at nurturing the relationship the child has with each parent. Though courses differ by location, the goal is to help parents in the various ways they may struggle while attempting to co-parent throughout the divorce process.

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Why a Court May Order Parenting Classes

While courts often order divorcing parents to attend courses to help them learn co-parenting skills, there are other situations in which classes may be required. If the court believes a child may be at risk when in the custody of one or both of its parents, the parent in question may be required to take classes. Examples include individuals who have been charged with abuse or neglect and those who are perceived by the court to lack general parenting skills. Courses that are intended to help parents who have been charged with child abuse or neglect typically focus on safe and age-appropriate ways of disciplining and healthy, effective anger management in addition to developing other day-to-day parenting skills. Classes that are required to be completed by both parents before the court will issue a judgment are called mandatory parenting classes. Courses that must be completed by prospective adoptive and foster parents are also mandatory classes. These courses seek to address the issues that often arise when parents are caring for a non-biological child, including disability and history of abuse or neglect.

Choosing a parenting class

When a court orders parenting classes, it will typically provide a list of approved course providers. If the court does not provide a list, parents should check with the local clerk for additional guidance prior to choosing a class. Doing so will ensure the course meets the court's requirements. Upon finishing the required classes, parents will need to submit a certificate of completion to the court. In some instances, the course provider may submit the certificate to the court on the client's behalf; therefore, class attendees should verify the course provider's policy prior to completion.

Online classes

Some jurisdictions now offer parents the option of taking classes online. Online courses are convenient for individuals who are unable to attend onsite classes or those who have major scheduling constraints. These classes may be completed privately at the attendee's desired pace; they can be accessed from virtually any computer that has an internet connection. If the court has not expressly stated that online courses are acceptable, a parent who wishes to take an online course may submit the Web address and course information to the court to determine whether the course meets the court's requirements. If the court does not approve the online course, the parent will be required to choose a different course that is acceptable to the court. Individuals may also consult their child custody and visitation attorney when choosing a course to help ensure proper compliance in accordance with Coral Springs laws.

Although some may view taking classes to be a cumbersome obstacle, court-ordered parenting courses should be viewed as a necessity for creating and growing a healthy relationship between a child and both parents. Therefore, parents should take heed if the court decides to require classes in the best interest of the children. Failure to comply with the court's orders can prolong or delay divorce proceedings or even jeopardize a parent's legal right to have custody with his or her child. Moreover, a contentious divorce or limited interaction with a parent is likely to negatively impact the child. Every loving parent wants what is best for his or her child; therefore, complying with a court order benefits the entire family.

How Do Judges Determine the Best Interest of a Child?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Updated September 2, 2017

When taking on issues that involve children, family courts are tasked with choosing the outcome that is in the affected child or children's best interest. Custody and visitation are among the most common considerations courts make along with deciding provision of healthcare, schooling, hobbies, and virtually anything that may add to or detract from the child's welfare in Coral Springs.

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Florida family law courts consider it to be within a child's best interest to have a loving relationship with both parents if doing so would not interfere with the child's health, safety and happiness. Other decisions made by the court also ideally promote the child's security, mental health, safety, physical well-being, and emotional development into adulthood.

How judges make determinations

From state to state and court to court, there is not one set of codified guidelines that help judges determine best interest in every situation. However, there are a several factors most judges consider. These factors include considering the child's happiness and preferences whenever reasonable, mental and physical health of the parents, each parent's ability to attend to any special needs the child may have, relevant cultural and/or religious considerations, continuation of stable living environment, age and gender of child, presence of abusive pattern, excessive use of discipline, drug and/or alcohol abuse, other members of the household, opportunity to interact with extended family members, and custody arrangements of siblings.

Factors judges consider in cases

States vary widely in terms of the extent to which "best interest" factors are recorded in their statutes. The following are a few examples of statutory requirements judges follow in different states in determining what is best for a child.

Approximately 21 states and Washington, D.C. have listed in statutes the specific factors local judges are required to consider when determining a child's best interest:

  • Fifteen states and Washington, D.C. weigh the emotional ties and relationships between the child and his or her parents, siblings, and other household members or caregivers.
  • Nine states require judges to evaluate each parent's capacity to provide adequate food, clothing, medical care, and a safe home for the child.
  • Eight states and the District of Columbia call for courts to weigh the child's physical and mental health needs and the physical and mental health of the parents.
  • Eight states require judges to consider the presence of domestic violence in the home.

Of the 22 jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., that list factors in their statutes, seven states and the District of Columbia require judges to consider all of the specified factors. In the remaining 14 states courts are directed to consider all relevant factors in addition to those that are named. Three states prohibit judges from considering certain factors. Connecticut's statutes instruct judges to avoid considering the parent or caregiver's socioeconomic status when making "best interest" determinations. Delaware restricts judges from deciding one parent is a better caregiver than another based on his or her gender. Idaho prohibits discrimination based on parental disability.

State trends regarding other important factors

Florida is a state that weigh the importance of sibling and other close family bonds. Judges in Alaska must consider frequency of visitation with the parents and family members if a child is removed from the home. Florida judges consider the love, affection, and other emotional ties the child has with the parents, his or her siblings and other family members who are important in determining the child's best interest in a child custody battle. Approximately 11 states and Washington, D.C. call for the child's preferences to be considered. In these instances, the court must determine whether the child is of an age and maturity level to express reasonable preferences.

Learn more about your options by calling a Coral Springs child custody lawyer today to schedule a free consultation.

Child Custody Relocation Laws in Florida

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Child custody lawyers frequently see families torn apart through a divorce. Parents often have particular constraints placed on them by the court. For example, custody agreements frequently have rules regarding where the custodial parent may live. If a custodial party wishes to relocate from Coral Springs for family reasons or better job opportunities, for example, he or she likely would need to seek the court's approval. These rules protect the child and the noncustodial parent, giving the latter reasonable access for visitation.

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Every state has differing laws, rules and customs on geographic arrangements regarding child custody. In Florida, the following rules govern these arrangements. Experienced Coral Springs child custody attorneys are able to explain how these rules work in Broward County, Florida, and help draft relocation agreements.

What is "Relocation?"

Florida statutes govern only moves of more than 50 miles from the principal home of the parent or other custodial guardians. It does not address moves across town or to a neighborhood farther away as long as the distance is shorter than that limit. The statute equally applies whether the move is within Florida or to another state.

Length of relocation

Only moves greater than 60 days are addressed by the courts. Vacations and trips for medical care or education are temporary in nature and are not considered a relocation under the statutes.

Relocation by agreement

If the parents and all custodial parties agree to the relocation, the laws regarding relocation require that a document be drawn and signed by all relevant parties. This includes the custodial parent or other party and the noncustodial parent. The agreement must describe the date of the proposed move, the new time-sharing schedule and any new transportation arrangements involving the child. If there is a time-sharing schedule currently in force, the parties must seek ratification by a court order.

Petition to relocate

If the parties do not have an agreement as described above, the parent seeking to relocate must file a petition to the court for permission to move. This petition to relocate must be signed by the petitioner, attesting to its truthfulness under penalty of perjury. It should include the proposed date of the move and the address and telephone number if known. The reasons for the relocation should be part of the petition, including any written job offers. A proposal for visitation after the move should be included, along with transportation arrangements. The petition must then be legally served to the other parent and every other person who is legally entitled to visitation or time-sharing with the child.

Response to a petition

Once a parent has been legally served with a petition to relocate, he or she must respond to the court within 20 days. If the parent fails to respond to the petition, the relocation would be allowed unless the court feels it would not be in the child's best interest. It is imperative that parents respond immediately to any petition. In cases like this, a Coral Springs child custody lawyer would be able to help with a proper and timely response.

Moving a child without permission

When a parent moves a child to a new location more than 50 miles away from the approved home without the court's permission, there can be severe legal ramifications. That parent would face contempt of court and other legal proceedings.

Billionaire Ken Griffin’s estranged wife seeks sole child custody

Thursday, September 11, 2014

On behalf of Stuart N. House, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Wednesday, September 10, 2014.

While some people in Florida may look at the lifestyles of the rich and the famous and be in awe, wealthy and famous people go through many of the same experiences as those who are less affluent. For example, one billionaire couple, Ken Griffin and his estranged wife Anne Dias Griffin, recently filed for a divorce and seem to be disagreeing on the best options for their children regarding child custody. Dias Griffin recently filed papers requesting sole custody of the couple's three young children.

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While the couple married in 2003, Dias Griffin claims her estranged husband moved out of the house in Feb. 2012 while she was pregnant with their third child. In court papers, she asserts that Griffin has not lived in the same house as the children since that time, excluding a three-week period after the youngest child was born. In her request for sole custody with visitation for Griffin, Dias Griffin claims that Griffin has previously shown little interest in the care of his children.

Sources close to Griffin dispute these claims, alleging that Dias Griffin is only using the children as pawns in their divorce battle. According to sources, Griffin has a close relationship with the children and plays a role in their lives. In his original divorce filing, he requested joint custody. He has also requested that the court create a parenting schedule.

In all child custody cases, the most important thing a court must consider is the best interest of the children. Many people in Florida who have found themselves in a similar situation have sought guidance from those with experience in handling child custody proceedings. With this guidance, many parents have been able to be a strong advocate for their children.

Florida grandparent custody laws are in favor of parents

Thursday, September 11, 2014

On behalf of Stuart N. House, P.A. posted in Grandparents' Rights on Friday, August 29, 2014.

There are many grandparents in Florida who simply delight in their grandchildren. They dream of the places they can experience together as well as the different activities they can complete. However, even though Florida is often considered the land of retirees (and possibly grandparents by extension), the state has strict laws regarding grandparent visitation and custody.

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In 1980, the state passed an amendment that deals with privacy, essentially stating that a person has a right to be free from government interference. This amendment, combined with case law, has shaped the Florida court's mindset. Generally speaking, Florida courts only allow grandparent visitation in cases where it would be considered harmful to the child if visitation or custody is denied.

Currently, a grandparent can sue for custody only under certain conditions such as the divorce of the child’s parents, when a child’s parents are not married at the time of birth or if a child has been abandoned by a parent. Within these circumstances, there are several different factors to consider. These factors include a child's preference and the state of the child-grandchild relationship among others.

Those who are familiar with grandparents' rights in Florida suggest that people who feel they meet one or more of these conditions seek guidance from someone who has experience with state law and similar cases. Many times, such a person can help determine if a person has a legitimate chance of obtaining custody. Additionally, this person can help a grandparent determine what is in the best interest of a child and, potentially, help preserve a relationship.