As a Jacksonville child custody attorney, I occasionally encounter situations where a parent is seeking custody of a child living with non-parents. A recent case, Slover v. Meyer, Case No. 2D10-6074 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) provides a good discussion of Florida law favoring custody rights for fit natural parents.
In Slover, the Court reversed the trial court’s decision due to the use of the incorrect legal standard ruling on a father’s petition seeking to modify a parenting plan granting legal and physical custody of the child residing with the child’s maternal step-grandparent.
The Slover case involved the child of two unmarried parents who lived in Colorado. Shortly after the birth of the child, the mother left Colorado with the child. When the child was three years old, the mother died. After the death of the mother, the father filed a petition in Colorado seeking custody of the child. Due to the father‘s substance abuse issues, the parties entered into a parenting plan granting the step-grandmother, residing in Florida, custody of the child.
About two years later, the father filed a petition in Lee County, Florida seeking custody of his child alleging a substantial change in circumstances due to the fact the father had been sober for a number of years, was in a stable marriage and employed.
Following a hearing, the trial court denied the father’s petition utilizing the substantial change in circumstances standard. The trial court noted that the father was a fit parent, but determined that there had not been a “substantial change in circumstances” warranting modification of the parenting plan. In reversing the trial court, the Court noted that a “substantial change in circumstances” applies to modifications involving two fit parents, not between a fit parent and a third party. The Court quoted In re Guardianship of DA McW., 460 So. 2d 368, 369-70 (Fla. 1984):
When a custody dispute is between two parents, where both are fit and have equal rights to custody, the test involves only the determination of the best interests of the child. When the custody dispute is between a natural parent and a third party, however, . . . custody should be denied to the natural parent only when such an award will, in fact, be detrimental to the welfare of the child.
The Court remanded the case back to the trial court to rule on the matter utilizing the child custody modification standard favoring the natural parent unless the modification would be detrimental to the child.
If have any questions about Florida child custody laws as they related to parents and grandparents or other third parties, please call the Taylor Law Office at 904.339.LAW8 (5298) or contact The Taylor Law Office through this website.