Florida’s divorce and paternity statutes don’t define “mental health treatment.” When they’re sharing parental responsibility, each parent retains parental consent to mental health treatment. However, by clarifying and agreeing to the scope of “mental health treatment” for their child, parents may avoid confusion and future litigation.
Parents in collaborative practice may define by agreement “mental health treatment” and a protocol for decision making about mental health treatment. They may show the judge their agreement is in their child’s best interests. Although the parents’ agreement is not binding on the judge, See Feliciano v. Feliciano, 674 So.2d 937 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996), Florida case precedent holds the judge has no free hand to disregard their wishes. Sedell v. Sedell, 100 So.2d 639, 642 (Fla. 1st DCA 1958).
Therefore, a court should respect and uphold such agreements unless a valid reason related to the best interest of the child or a finding that parents’ agreements were involuntary or the product of fraud justifies not respecting and upholding the parents’ agreements. See Griffith v.Griffith, 860 So. 2d 1069, 1072 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003) (insufficient evidence supported trial judge’s disdaining parents’ mediation agreement resolving alimony, child support, and custody, conducting post-mediation hearings to determine if the agreement was in the children’s best interest, and, concluding the agreement wasn’t in the children’s best interest, reducing doctor-mom’s agreed-on child support obligation); Williams v. Sapp, 255 So. 3d 912 (Fla. 1st DCA May 31, 2018) (With no notice or opportunity for mom to be heard, a trial judge improperly modified parents’ mediation agreement for mom to have sole parental responsibility; the trial court must either approve the parents’ agreement as they negotiated it or, if the court is unable or unwilling to do so, must conduct a properly noticed evidentiary hearing).