With summer just around the corner, many parents struggle with what to do with the children.
For parents who are divorced, the challenge may be even greater. Some are fortunate enough to have grandparents willing to take on some of the responsibility of overseeing the children’s summer activities. But not every family dynamic makes that possible. Some parents, as we see in this case out of the 5th District Court of Appeal, don’t want grandparents involved in their children’s lives.
In Ledoux-Nottingham v. Downs (Case No. 5D14-944), the mother, Ruth Ledoux-Nottingham
challenged a Florida trial court’s final judgment that enforced a Colorado court’s final order granting the grandparents, Jennifer Joy and William Glen Downs, visitation privileges with the mother’s two minor children who live in Florida. The mother also appealed the denial of her request to modify the Colorado order to terminate the grandparent’s visitation privileges with the children.
The mother and the children’s father were divorced in Colorado in 2010; a year later the father died. The mother then moved to Florida. The grandparents initiated a proceeding in Colorado seeking visitation with the children. The mother filed an action in Florida to register the Colorado final judgment dissolving her marriage and for a judicial determination that the grandparents be given no legal right to time-sharing with the children.
The grandparents then filed a motion to dismiss the Florida proceeding because Colorado had already exercised jurisdiction to address visitation and had not yet ruled. In 2012, the Colorado court ruled that it was in the best interest of the minor children to be able to have visitation with their grandparents and awarded the grandparents three weeks of visitation, along with reasonable phone contact.
The mother then filed an amended petition in Florida asking the court to throw out the order claiming it violated Florida’s constitution and state public policy. She argued that a parent holds autonomy over child-rearing decisions as part of his or her right of privacy guaranteed by the Florida constitution. The grandparents argued that under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the trial court should order both sides to follow the Colorado court’s visitation order. The trial court sided with the grandparents and the mother appealed.
The appellate court ruled that the trial court properly enforced the Colorado court’s order determining the grandparent’s right to visitation.
“Since the Colorado order was a final judgment and emanated from a ‘child custody proceeding’ within the meaning of section 61.503(4) Florida Statutes (2013), it became enforceable in Florida pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause, as well as section 61.526 , Florida Statutes,” the court wrote.
However, the court also noted that not every appellate court has come to a similar conclusion. It pointed out that the 4th DCA in a 1999 case M.S. v. D.C., Jr., reached an opposite conclusion. As a result, the mother requested that the appellate court certify conflict with the 4th DCA ruling holding that the Full Faith and Credit Clause does not trump Florida’s overriding public policy of a guaranteed fundamental right of privacy in child-rearing autonomy, which the appellate court did. This could result in the Florida Supreme Court to take up and resolve the conflicting appellate court cases.
Sadly, such cases come up more often than we like to think. While everyone should want what is best for the child, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the legal system has to step in.
Sustainable Family Solutions can help you understand your options and help you to come up with a resolution that will benefit everyone involved.
Lori Barkus is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil and Family Law mediator and guardian ad litem. She handles matters relating to divorce, custody, child support, paternity, collaborative divorce, adoption, parental rights, and family law and civil mediation.
Ms. Barkus is a cum laude graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. She is admitted to practice in Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia, as well as in the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals. She is also a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.
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