It is not uncommon in family law matters for one parent to attempt to alienate a parent from a child. It is also not uncommon for a case to exist where a parent has not seen their child for a very long time due to geographical restrictions. Many parents in this situation often ask if this means that they will never be able to see their child again, or if this will be detrimental to their case.
In a recent decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal, this type of issue was addressed. In this case, a father lived outside of Florida, and for the past five years had little to no relationship with his child. The Mother felt that any timesharing he was awarded should have been supervised, and that she should have the child the majority of the time. The Father asked the court for timesharing with the child.
The court gave the Mother all of the timesharing with the child, and awarded the Father no timesharing, essentially eliminating his right as a parent to have a meaningful relationship with this child. When this decision was appealed, this issue was discussed. It was explained that in Florida, the public policy is that a child has a right to have continuing contact with both parents, not just one.
The rare exception to this rule is when it can be shown that the parent conducts himself or herself, while in the presence of the child, in a manner which will negatively affect the welfare or morals of the child. Even if this can be shown, it is never a guarantee that the offending parent will not still be given some type of timesharing with the child. It is common for supervised timesharing to be awarded, or a plan to be put in place to aid the parent in understanding how to properly parent the child.
Without proving that it would be detrimental or harmful for the absent parent to spend time with the child, timesharing should be awarded. It may be a graduated timesharing plan, where the amount of time is less in the beginning, to allow for a reunification that will not emotionally damage the child, but some timesharing should be awarded.
A court, when making this type of decision, must give the absent parent the keys to the timesharing; that is, the court must outline and explain what that parent must do in order to reestablish timesharing with the child. This must be in writing, and part of the court file, so that parent knows that is required of him or her, and so that any future judge who is overseeing the case can monitor the progress, and understand what happened in the past.
So, just because a parent has not seen a child in a long time, even for 5 years, this does not mean that this parent is not still entitled to timesharing with the child. The public policy in support of allowing both parent-child relationships to continue is strong, and will almost always overcome any period of absence that a parent has had from a child's life. This is especially true if this period of absence was not voluntary, or was caused by the ill-willed or malicious behavior of the other parent. But like all issue in family law, these types of situations are very fact specific, and every case will have a slightly different answer.