What a Court Order Must Show to Justify Award of Sole Child Custody in Florida

- Gary E. Williams

The 5th District Appellate Court of Florida recently issued a decision overturning a district court’s order transferring sole child custody from one parent to another – for its failing to specify through evidence that shared parental responsibility would not be in the children’s best interests.

Henderson vs. Henderson

The questioned order stemmed from a petition for modification of a judgment made in 2009 in connection with divorce proceedings between Michelle and Reese Henderson. 

The couple were married in 1993 and have 2 children out of that marriage. In 2008, the husband filed for divorce. In 2009, the parties entered into a mediated agreement referred to as the Settlement Agreement which was later incorporated in the 2009 judgment of the trial court. In the trial court’s order, child custody was awarded to the former wife while the former husband was entitled to regular visitation. The husband was also ordered to pay child support.

In 2010, the former husband went to court this time filing a petition to modify the 2009 judgment, claiming ‘substantial change in circumstances’, particularly, the former wife’s alleged battery of the former husband. In 2012, the trial court issued the questioned order changing the residence of the two minor children from the wife’s to the husband’s and also issued orders: 

  • For the wife to pay child support
  • Granting the former husband sole decision-making authority for the children

Rashid vs. Rashid Doctrine

On appeal, the court reversed the 2012 order applying the decision in the case of Rashid v. Rashid which ruled that a specific finding that shared responsibility would be detrimental to the child may justify the award of sole parental responsibility to one parent.

The appellate court further stated that even if there is sufficient evidence to justify granting sole parental authority to the former husband, the custody order should still contain the specific finding of detriment or face a reversal for being inadequate to support the sole child custody order.

If you are contemplating divorce and have common children with your spouse, it’s important to discuss child custody matters with a family law attorney before filing for divorce or dissolution of marriage. Modifying child custody orders as well requires careful legal assessment and representation in order to avoid costly court order reversals.

In Clearwater, Florida, the Law Firm for Family Law has managed more than 1,800 cases involving various family law issues such as child custody, child support, and other related cases.

Our firm is led by Gary E. Williams, a Board Certified Expert in Marital and Family Law in Pinellas County. We invite you to call our offices today at (727) 531-8737 to speak to an attorney about your situation.