Can Exposing a Child to Domestic Violence Lead to a Change in Custody Arrangements?
The general rule in Florida is that a child custody order will not be modified after-the-fact unless there is proof of a “substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances” that the parents did not contemplate at the time. Obviously, something like domestic violence would qualify as such a change. But what you may not realize is that domestic violence need not be directed at the child. A court can also modify custody in cases where a parent is a victim of domestic violence in the child’s presence.
Judge Awards Mother Sole Custody Due to Father’s Unwillingness to Admit He Is a Victim of Domestic Abuse
The Florida Second District Court of Appeal recently addressed such a scenario. In Meyers v. Meyers, the parents of a teenage boy divorced in 2014. At the time of the divorce, the parents shared custody of their son, with the mother homeschooling him.
About three years after the divorce, the mother filed a petition seeking sole custody. In her petition, she alleged the father’s new wife had committed acts of domestic violence in the child’s presence. For instance, the child told his mother than in February 2017, the father’s wife “launched a metal garbage can at him” during an argument. The father was taken to the hospital, where he lied about the cause of his injuries; he also told his son to “avoid telling anyone what really transpired.”
The mother went on to tell the court that as a result of witnessing this domestic violence, her son “began experiencing nightmares” and “returned to an early childhood habit of sleeping in her bed.”
Based on this and other testimony, the judge agreed a modification of the original child custody plan was in order. Instead of the prior 50/50 timesharing arrangement, the judge decided a 90-10 split favoring the mother was warranted. The judge also criticized the father for “lacking awareness” of the abusive relationship with his current wife and its impact on his son.
The father appealed the judge’s ruling, citing a lack of “competent evidence.” The Fifth District rejected this argument and affirmed the lower court’s decision. Indeed, the father admitted to the facts underlying the reported domestic violence incidents. But he continued to insist there was no problem, which is what concerned both the trial court and the Fifth District.
The appeals court did side with the father on one issue, however. The trial judge also granted the mother sole authority to make decisions with regard to her son’s education. The Fifth District explained there was no evidence of any disagreement between the parents on this subject, and therefore no grounds to modify the existing equal split of authority.
Speak with a Florida Child Custody Modification Attorney Today
No child should have to grow up in a home with domestic violence of any kind. If you are involved in a custody dispute where this is, or may be, an issue, you need to consult with a qualified Boca Raton child custody lawyer who can effectively represent your interests in court. Contact WiseLieberman at 561-488-7788 today to schedule a consultation.