Collaborative Family Law Agreements: A Child’s Future Best Interests

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Judges Must Make Decisions About Children’s Best Interests Based On Present Facts, Not Future Best Interests.

Judges must decide parenting issues based on your child’s best interests as of the final hearing, not on your child’s future best interests. A judge has no crystal ball to determine if parenting plan changes, triggered by future events, would be in your child’s future 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).

For example, in Amiot v. Olmstead, 321 So. 3d 305 (Fla. 1st DCA 2021), the court struck a conditional provision the trial court included in an order modifying timesharing. In the final divorce judgment, the court adopted the parties’ marital settlement agreement, which gave each parent roughly equal timesharing. Mom received a military transfer to California. She asked for permission to relocate there with the child. The trial court denied her request and adopted a long-distance parenting plan.

Regarding not looking too far ahead, however, the court went too far in providing for changes to the parenting plan based on future conditions. Specifically, the court ordered, if mom were to move 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 if she ever moved back to Florida. This relocation statute includes best interest factors a court must consider when a parent seeks relocation without the other parent’s consent.

Judges Can’t Speculate About Future Best Interests

Other cases apply Florida’s requirements judges stay focused on present best interests, unless events are reasonably certain to occur. See, for example, CG v. MM, 310 So. 3d 977 (Fla. 2d DCA 2020), in which the court improperly considered a speculative prospective relocation by mom from Pinellas to Hillsborough County. The court erred when it ordered an automatic change in timesharing if that were to occur.

In another relocation case, Alinat v. Curtis, 86 So. 3d 552 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012), citing Arthur, the appellate court reversed an order allowing mom to 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: Future 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. For example, see NB v. RV, 353 So. 3d 1269 (Fla. 2d DCA 2023). In NB v. RV, the court upheld a parenting plan and order for timesharing to change once the child started kindergarten.

So…When can a Florida family law judge look to the future? What are events reasonably certain to occur?

For more, read the next section here.

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