Judges Must Make Decisions About Children’s Best Interests Based On Present Facts.
Judges must decide parenting issues based on evidence about children’s best interests as of the final hearing. A trial judge has no crystal ball to determine if parenting plan changes, triggered by future events, would be in your child’s best interests. Arthur v. Arthur, 54 So. 3d 454 (Fla. 2010) (the trial judge cannot predict if future relocation is in a child’s best interests).
In Amiot v. Olmstead, Case No. 1D20-680 (Fla. 1st DCA May 11, 2021), the court struck a conditional provision the trial court included in an order modifying timesharing. The court adopted in the final divorce judgment the parties’ marital settlement agreement, which gave each parent roughly equal timesharing. Mom received a military transfer to California and requested permission to relocate there with the child. The trial court denied her request and adopted a long-distance parenting plan. But the trial court went too far in the modified parenting plan when it included a condition that, if mom were to relocate back to within 60 miles of Bay County Florida, timesharing would revert to the original schedule. Citing Arthur, the appellate court held the trial court had engaged in improper prospective-based determination of the child’s best interest. Further, the court improperly excused mom from having to comply with Florida’s relocation statute — which includes best interest factors a court must consider when a parent seeks relocation without the other parent’s consent — if she ever moved back to Florida.
See also CG v. MM, Case No. 2D19-857 (Fla. 2d DCA May 20, 2020) (trial court improperly considered a speculative prospective relocation by mom from Pinellas to Hillsborough County and ordered an automatic change in timesharing if that were to occur) and Alinat v. Curtis, 86 So. 3d 552 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) (citing Arthur, the court reversed nonfinal temporary order allowing mom to temporarily relocate with the parents’ two children to Australia for three years. Dad opposed relocation. The trial court improperly delayed a final determination of the children’s best interests for three years).
Exception: Children’s Best Interests: Parenting Plans and Events Reasonably Certain to Occur.
An exception to the above rule is judges may allow a timesharing plan that applies the child’s best interests, as determined at the final hearing in a Florida divorce or paternity action, to an event reasonably and objectively certain to occur at an identifiable time. For such events, judges need no crystal ball.
So…When can a Florida family law judge look to the future? What are events reasonably certain to occur?