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.
Judges Should Respect Parents’ Agreements Clarifying Intent About “Mental Health Treatment”
Judges have an independent duty to safeguard a child’s best interests, even when parents agree on how they’ll raise their child. 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.
For example, in Griffith v.Griffith, 860 So. 2d 1069 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003), there wasn’t enough evidence to support the trial judge’s disdaining parents’ mediation agreement. Their agreement resolved alimony, child support, and custody. Yet the court conducted post-mediation hearings to determine if the agreement was in the children’s best interest. Then, the judge concluded the agreement wasn’t in the children’s best interest. So the trial court cut the doctor-mom’s agreed-on child support obligation.
And, in Williams v. Sapp, 255 So. 3d 912 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), a trial judge improperly modified parents’ mediation agreement for mom to have sole parental responsibility. But there was no notice or opportunity for mom to be heard. The appeals court held the trial judge must either approve the parents’ agreement as they negotiated it or, if the court is can’t or won’t, must conduct a properly-noticed evidentiary hearing.
Related Blog Posts
- Parental Responsibility & Decision Making
- Shared Parenting – Retained Consent to Mental Health Treatment
- Florida Law: Each Parent Retains Consent to Mental Health Treatment
- Collaborative Practice: Shared Parental Responsibility for Health Care
- What Is “Mental Health Treatment?”
- Language – “Mental Health Treatment”
- Informed Consent By One Parent – Florida Mental Health Professionals
- Florida Mental Health Providers & Informed Consent
- What If Parents Disagree About Child’s Mental Health Treatment?