Myth: Dads Can’t Win Custody

Seven year old Florida girl. Father and Mother were never married, didn’t even date.

Since girl’s birth, Father and Mother have taken turns reporting one another to social services and seeking restraining orders against each other.

Each parent has refused to return the child after timesharing with her.

Both parents have tried to inject others into the middle of their battle, including the girl’s preschool.

The Court file was stuffed with hundreds of pages. Then things really got going.

The Mother reportedly withheld visitation one time too many – and was threatened by a judge with incarceration if she pulled that one more time.

And then the girl turned up for visitation with her Father with bruises on her face.

One of the Mother’s boyfriends subsequently pleaded no contest to the charge of battery on the girl. He was sentenced only to probation, but was ordered not to have any further contact with the girl.

Yet the Florida Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) kept returning the girl from her Father to her Mother. Despite cases like this until that point, Florida’s custody laws are gender-neutral; the law does not favor either parent based solely on their sex.

Then things really escalated in the case. The Mother reportedly accused the Father of sexually abusing the girl.

At which point DCF instituted dependency proceedings, to terminate the Father’s parental rights permanently.

The Court appointed a guardian ad litem (lay advocate)(“GAL”) for the girl in the case. Interestingly, the GAL did not buy the Mother’s version of events.

But still DCF and the Mother proceeded to trial. But the Mother changed her testimony mid-stream.

In the end, the Court did not terminate the Father’s parental rights. Probably not so surprising.

But what happened next was …

In a hearing on whether to terminate the Father’s parental rights, the Court swapped the stakes and awarded the Father primary residential custody of the girl! Over DCF’s objections.

Further, the Court ordered the Mother to undergo counseling and awarded her only supervised visitation with the girl.

It turns out that the abuse allegations were inspired by the Father’s application of medicine for the girl’s recurring urinary tract infections.

The Father’s attorney criticized DCF for not doing a thorough investigation into the allegations in the first place. According to him, the girl was coached, later recanted and was then scolded for recanting.

The girl has been living with her Father and his wife over a year now. She is reportedly thriving there.

The Mother has not seen the girl since the Court’s ruling – although Father has reportedly tried to facilitate same.

Mother filed an appeal of the ruling, but it was dismissed. Mother was not represented by counsel at the hearing, because she intended it to be “her hearing”, to terminate Father’s parental rights.

Her appeal was based on the premise that she should have been afforded the opportunity to retain counsel when the hearing morphed into Father’s modification of custody hearing.

But, when you play with fire, you have to expect that you may get burned …

Meanwhile, the Father plans to sue DCF for its negligence, impliedly arising from bias against fathers. He has since become a fathers’ rights advocate.

Dads can win custody of kids, sometimes even when they really don’t go looking for it.

Read more in this Lakeland Ledger article: Custody Case Opens a Window on Family Court.