Conflicting Florida Court Opinions Regarding Modification and Reunification Plans

Conflicting Florida Court Opinions Regarding Modification and Reunification Plans

When a parent’s physical custody of a child has been removed by the State, it is public policy of the court and the Department of Children and Families to establish a plan for reunification of the parent and child. However, in recent developments, it has been seen that the implementations of these plans in proceedings involving modification of parenting plans and timesharing, conflict between the courts around the State. Therefore, your Pensacola Child Custody Attorney has provided some information regarding the recent discrepancies in court rulings regarding reestablishing timesharing rights to a parent.

Most recently, the 5th District Court of Appeals approached the issue. The specific question presented is if a court is required to implement a reunification plan when a modification to an existing parenting plan has occurred, limiting or eliminating a parent’s timesharing. C.N. v. I.G.C. (Fla. 5th DCA 2020). In C.N. v. I.G.C. the court held a modification was necessary “in light of a substantial, material, and permanent change in circumstances” which resulted in providing primary custody to the Father, and reduced the Mother’s visitation by two thirds. The Mother sought an appeal claiming the modification to be invalid and the court failed to implement a reunification plan. The court held that Florida Statute 61.13(3) regarding modification of parenting plans does not require the court to provide a plan for the mother to implement to reestablish her timesharing rights. Further, the court refused to encroach on legislative power and modify the statute to imply such steps be required of the courts.

Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeals, and 3rd District Court of Appeals have landed on the same side as the 5th circuit. In Dukes v.  Griffin, the court held “outside of satisfying requirements of section 61.13, courts may not set forth another way, or other steps, for parents to modify unsatisfactory timesharing schedules.” 230  So.  3d  155  (Fla.  1st  DCA  2017). In the case of Solomon v. Solomon, the court noted that it is common for a parent to desire a precise guideline on how to retain their prior timesharing arrangement; however, Florida statute does not require the courts to provide these steps in their orders.

In contrast, Florida’s 2nd and 4th District Court of Appeals, have held that within a final judgment regarding modification of a child custody arrangement or timesharing, a plan to reestablish the timesharing lost must be included in the judgment, or such order would be deemed legally deficient. Perez v. Fay, 160 So. 3d 459 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015); Ross v. Botha, 867  So.  2d  567,  571  (Fla.  4th  DCA  2004); Davis v. Lopez–Davis, 162 So. 3d 19, 21 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014); Grigsby v. Grigsby, 39 So. 3d 453, 457 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010).

With two sets of thought and multiple conflicting districts there is no common ground for the steps to be taken by a parent whose timesharing rights have been limited or eliminated. While some districts require the trial court provide the parent with a plan to complete in order to regain their timesharing rights, the other districts strictly adhere to the face of the law and require the parent to display a substantial change in circumstances warranting a modification of the parenting plan in order to reestablish their rights.

With these conflicts, the idea of regaining your previously enjoyed timesharing rights can be a daunting task. However, your experienced Pensacola Child Custody Attorney will be able to provide you with aggressive legal representation to protect your rights and will provide you with the knowledge, information, and assistance you need to reunite with your child.

Speaking to an attorney at our Pensacola office is free of charge, and we accept calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us at 850-999-5857 or complete an online contact form to get in touch with a member of our team today.

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