Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Child Custody

Third parties who serve as parental figures in Florida usually provide love, support and comfort for children who are in their care. This is why it is difficult when a biological parent objects to a third party’s custody of a child - what do you do when a child has grown up with a third party but a biological parent wants custody of the child? Such was the case in Morris v. Morris, 1D16-4695 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018) decided in the spring of this year.

In 2002, the minor child who is the subject of this case was about 18 months old. Her mother was awarded primary custody. The father had sporadic visits and was on active duty with the military. The mother later married the father’s brother - so the minor child’s uncle became her stepfather. The mother and stepfather raised the child together for the next 14 years until the mother unfortunately passed away.

Upon the mother’s passing, the biological father requested custody of the child who is now 16 years old. The stepfather filed a petition for temporary custody by an extended relative. After a hearing on the petition, the trial court ruled it would not be in the child’s best interest to relocate to Germany where the biological father was now stationed, uprooting her from her school, friends and siblings. The child testified at trial that she wanted to remain in Florida with her stepfather, younger brother and older sister, and that she wanted to finish school with her classmates. The biological father appealed.

The appellate court determined the trial court used the wrong standard to make its decision - when there are competing interests between a third party and a biological parent, the best interest standard is not controlling. The appellate court held: “Thus, the biological father should have been awarded custody of the minor child unless the step-father proved either: (1) the biological father was unfit; or (2) remaining with the biological father would result in demonstrable harm to the minor child.”

The court further held: “This Court has addressed detriment in cases requiring a child's relocation, finding "'the detriment which must be established . . . before a natural parent's request for custody may be denied involves something much more serious than the discomfort normally experienced by a child when moved from a familiar environment into one engulfed by the fear and uncertainty associated with the unknown . . .'" Seilkop vBarker, 148 So. 3d 865, 868 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014) (quoting Murphy, 665 So. 2d at 1094). Rather, "[i]t contemplates a longer term adverse effect that transcends the normal adjustment period in such cases." Filter vBennett, 554 So. 2d 1184, 1185 (Fla. 2d DCA 1989).

The case was remanded to the trial court to analyze the case under this standard. No doubt, a difficult situation exists for all involved, especially the child in this case. If you need assistance with a Florida child custody case, schedule a consultation with a Miami family law attorney.