Parents who share custody of their children realize that maintaining a civil relationship with the former spouse is necessary to their children’s best interest, and in many families, child transfer between parents is conducted without incident. In contradiction, a recent article in the Palm Beach Post is an example of parents in the middle of a divorce who cannot agree on custody and visitation issues and highlights how courts must sometimes intervene to settle the issue. Specifically, the article discusses the divorce and child custody battles of Senator Joseph Abruzzo and his wife of one year by describing competing accusations over who is best suited to care for their seven-month-old son and requests for judicial action to determine who should have physical custody.
In an effort to minimize situations like the one just described and promote family stability, Florida law requires the terms of child custody and visitation in a divorce case to be set out in a parenting plan, which is developed by a court in keeping with the best interests of the child. While the law establishes a number of consequences for parents who fail to follow court-approved parenting plans, there are also provisions to restrict the actions of parents suspected of planning to violate the plan by physically removing the child from the jurisdiction or concealing their whereabouts.When a Court Will Act
In any proceeding related to the issuance or modification of a parenting plan, a party may alert the court to possibility that one parent plans to violate a parenting plan by taking the child out of the state or country, or concealing the child’s location. If the court finds there is substantial evidence supporting the claim, it may place restrictions on the parent’s ability to travel with the child or require the parent to post a bond or security to persuade them to follow the court’s directive.Travel Restrictions
When it comes to travel restrictions, the court has a range of options to block removal of the child by the parent. Some of the limitations the court may impose on the at-risk parent include:
- requiring the parent to surrender the child’s passport or preventing the parent from applying for or renewing the child’s passport;
- requiring notarized written permission from both parents or the court to remove the child from the state or country;
- requiring the parent to provide the other a copy of the child’s travel itinerary if travel is outside the designated geographic area;
- requiring the parent to provide a list of addresses and telephone numbers where the child can be reached while traveling;
- requiring the parent to provide a copy of all travel documents;
- prohibiting the parent from taking the child from school or child care facility; and
- preventing the parent from seeing the child at any location other than the spot designated for visitation.
The purpose of requiring the at-risk parent to post a bond or security is to provide a financial disincentive to violating the parenting plan because any violation would be grounds for a court to order the forfeiture of the bond or security. The bond amount must take into consideration the parent’s financial abilities and may not be unreasonable. Before a court exercises its option to demand a bond or security, the court can consider any factor that would increase the likelihood of the parent removing the child from the state or country or concealing the child’s whereabouts. A few of the many factors considered relevant under the statute include:
- previous or threatened instances of the parent removing the child from the state in violation of the parenting plan;
- the parent has strong family and community connections to Florida or another state or is a citizen of another country;
- the parent has a criminal record; or
- the parent has taken steps indicating an intention to leave the state, such as ending employment, liquidating assets and selling the parent’s home.
If you suspect your ex-spouse is planning to flee with your child, it is crucial to talk with a lawyer before your former spouse has an opportunity to act. This is especially true if the likely destination is another country, as the legal mechanisms available to return the child are much more complex and less predictable. Stok Kon + Braverman offers legal services in the Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach areas on child custody and visitation issues. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.