When may a court terminate visitation rights?
When the safety or welfare of a minor child is at risk, a court may need to terminate visitations rights. However, a court must follow very strict procedures to do so, even when it must be done on an emergency basis. “Although termination of visitation rights is disfavored, the trial court has discretion to restrict or deny visitation when necessary to protect the welfare of the children. However, when the court exercises this discretion, it must clearly set forth the steps the parent must take in order to reestablish timesharing with the children.” Grigsby v. Grigsby, 39 So. 3d 453, 455 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010). In other words, the termination of visitation rights cannot be indefinite. The court must establish a written plan for the parent to follow to reestablish visitation. For example, if visitation is terminated for drug abuse, the trial judge may require that the parent provide drug tests showing that the parent has been clean and sober for a specified period of time. In cases of domestic violence, the judge may require anger management classes or counseling for the parent and the child.
Additionally, even if the court enters the order terminating visitation on an emergency basis, the trial court must provide the parent whose rights were terminated an opportunity to be heard. “Even where the trial court is authorized to enter an emergency ex parte modification order, the court should thereafter afford the custodial parent prompt notice and opportunity to be heard. Stated another way, the trial court should make every reasonable effort to allow both parties to be heard prior to issuing an emergency modification order. If this is not possible, however, an opportunity to be heard should be provided as soon thereafter as possible.” Wilson v. Roseberry, 669 So. 2d 1152, 1153 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996).
The termination of visitation is very serious and must be supported by proper factual findings. Courts are required to make specific findings that having visitation between the parent and the minor child would be to the detriment of the child before awarding sole parental responsibility. See Maslow v. Edwards, 886 So.2d 1027 (Fla. 5th DCA 2004).