Expansion of Custody Rights for Deployed Military Members
As an effort to widen control military service members being deployed have over issues concerning their children is sailing through the Florida House and Senate, opposition from the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar has emerged.
House Bill 1217, known as the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Groveland, and a sister bill in the Senate, SB 1598, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-LaBelle, have both sailed through committee in both chambers.
The act which has been enacted in 13 states, provides for more parameters for parents deploying for service to find agreements for their child’s care. The sweeping new 19-page bill would allow for a deploying person to enter into quick agreements for child time-sharing and custody issues with the other parent. Also, it allows for timely court hearings to decide settlements if there are disagreements between parents, prohibits the entry of a permanent custody arrangement prior to a deployment, and termination of a temporary agreement when a service member returns.
The bill would also widen a deploying persons pool of people who can be given “caretaking” authority over a child where the current law only allows for a designee to be a “family member, step-parent, or relative of the child by marriage,” according to a House staff analysis.
“The bill allows a deployed parent to grant caretaking authority to a nonparent with whom the child has a close positive relationship of substantial duration and depth,” the report states.
There had been no resistance to the bill in recent weeks though Metz said during committee hearings he has met with representatives of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar.
“In essence what we are trying to do here is empower the deploying parent as much as we can so that when they are deploying they are not compromising their relationship with their child,” Metz told the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 7.
As a House floor reading approached this week, however, the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar issued an email blast urging opposition to the bill. It cited this bullet list as reasons why:
Florida has been protecting military families for years through the application of Florida Statute 61.13002. Our current statute permits a grant of timesharing to a family member, including a stepparent, sibling or grandparent. The proposed legislation, however, in violation of our service members’ constitutional rights of privacy, provides for a transfer of timesharing and parental responsibility decisions to non-family members if a court finds a substantial relationship test is met. Imagine a situation where a significant other has been around a minimal amount of time but is granted timesharing? Additionally, how is a substantial relationship defined? This grant of time-sharing to a non-family member and decision-making authority (a.k.a. parental responsibility) to a third party are in violation of current Florida Law and the Florida constitution. What occurs when a grandparent is given decision-making authority and does not approve of how the parents are raising the child? When there is a conflict between the non-parent and non-deployed parent, are they going to be litigating on what schools the child will attend, what doctors the child will see, etc.?
- Similarly, the bill grants “limited contact” (which is not clearly defined but is different than custody/timesharing) to unrelated third parties. The bill’s limited contact provisions allow the deploying parent to grant contact between the child and an unlimited number of non-family 3rd parties. No consideration has been given to the privacy issues raised by this provision, the best interests of the children or the enormous litigation burden this could create for our deploying parents or those families with deploying parents.
- Finally, the bill contains antiquated terms such as custodial responsibility, custody, and terms not in conformity with Chapter 61, like limited contact (which is not specifically defined but is different than custody/timesharing), caretaking authority, and decision-making authority. Not only do these terms cause confusion within the bill but in many instances they overlap or they are in direct contradiction to Chapter 61. This will result in additional litigation costs and place heavier burdens on our overburdened courts and Florida’s military families.
Ayo & Iken Attorney Bruce Przepis said while supporting the military is a common goal shared by many he does see the potential for increased litigation if the bill passes. Privacy issues could become a concern as parents are generally the decision-makers when it comes to things like health, education, and overall well-being of a child.
The proposed law leaves judges with a wide birth to decide who can be given decision-making powers for the child which could be an issue. The courts have also steered away from antiquated terminology such as “custody” and disputes could arise if someone given care-taking powers may believe that means the right to some form of child custody or time-sharing, he said.
“And you could imagine the litigation that might ensue if there is a disagreement between this other family member and the non-deployed parent,” Przepis said. “So these are issues that are important and we need to make sure that whatever ultimately the law is that it does not cause extra litigation, and heartache, and expense for parents.”Ayo & Iken Attorney Claudia Blackwell had a different take on possibly allowing for a larger pool of people a deployed person can consider for issues involving their children. Blackwell said in recent years she has represented military personnel in several cases, some of which gone to final hearing over child time-sharing issues because they can be so difficult to resolve.
Blackwell said two problems have unfolded in her cases – one being if both parents are in the military and being deployed and childcare is needed, the second is if the non-deploying parent cannot care for the child for some reason.
“So it is important to expand the realm of people who could care for the child or children,” she said.
If the bill passes and is signed by Gov. Rick Scott it would take effect July 1.
Update: Florida House lawmakers have resoundingly passed a bill that would allow for sweeping changes as to how military service members being deployed can handle issues concerning their children’s care while they are gone.
The bill passed unanimously 109 to 0 on Feb. 28 sending it to the Senate for consideration. House Bill 1217, known as the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Groveland, and a sister bill in the Senate, SB 1598, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-LaBelle, both sailed through committees in both chambers.
If passed, Florida would become the 14th state to pass the act, which provides for more parameters for parents deploying for service to find agreements for childcare.
The bill did meet with some resistance as it made its way to the House floor as the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar sent an email blast out opposing the bill urging people to contact their representatives and call on them to vote against it.
If the bill passes, it would take effect July 1. We will keep you posted.
Update: March 9th, 2018
UPDATE: Florida lawmakers will be sending to the governor a bill that has unanimously passed both chambers that would allow for major changes as to how military service members being deployed can handle issues concerning their child’s care while they are gone.
This week the Florid Senate voted unanimously 36 to 0 to accept House Bill 1217, known as the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Groveland, and the House ordered it enrolled to the Gov. Rick Scott.
If Scott signs the bill, Florida would become the 14th state to pass the act, which provides for more parameters for parents deploying for service to find agreements for their child’s care.
The bill did meet with some resistance as it made its way through committee as the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar sent an email blast out opposing the bill and urged people to contact their representatives to vote against it. But in the end, not one legislator voted against it in either chamber.
If the bill passes, it would take effect July 1. We will keep you posted.