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Foreman v. James

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

October 2, 2019

Mary E. Foreman, Petitioner,
v.
Thomas James, Respondent.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          On Petition for Writ of Certiorari from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower Tribunal No. 09-10502, Scott M. Bernstein, Judge.

          Nancy A. Hass, P.A., and Nancy A. Hass (Fort Lauderdale), for petitioner.

          Thomas James, in proper person.

          Before SCALES, LINDSEY and LOBREE, JJ.

          SCALES, J.

         Petitioner Mary E. Foreman, the Mother, seeks certiorari review to quash an August 14, 2019 Order on Case Management Conference in which the trial court required her and Thomas James, the Father, to participate in a Family Bridges Workshop to address the alienation of the parties' daughter toward the Father. We deny the petition for writ of certiorari for the reasons set forth in this opinion.

         Procedural Background

         The child was born in 2005. The parties were not married when she was born and have not lived together as a family, the Mother having obtained the sole decision-making and primary parenting duties in a 2010 Paternity Settlement Agreement.

         In recent years, the Father has sought to achieve a closer relationship with his daughter. In 2018, he filed with the trial court a petition to modify the 2010 Paternity Settlement Agreement and to obtain, among other things, shared parental responsibility. On December 27, 2018, the trial court ordered the appointment of a reunification therapist.

         At a case management conference, held on July 2, 2019, the reunification therapist advised the trial court that she had observed "alienating behaviors." Although the reunification therapist was uncertain whether the Mother was acting in an intentional or unintentional manner, she did state that the Mother appeared to be alienating her daughter from the Father. The trial court, while not making a finding of whether alienation was intentional or unintentional, found that the child was being alienated from the father. In the course of a discussion at the July 2, 2019 hearing about the need for an expert psychological evaluation, the reunification therapist advised the trial court of a program called Family Bridges. The trial court expressed the view that such an advanced reunification program should be ordered soon if the then current course of reunification - consisting primarily of conferences with the court-appointed reunification therapist - proved unsuccessful and signs of alienation continued. Counsel for both the Mother and the Father agreed to explore the efficacy of Family Bridges or a similar therapeutic reunification program, and the trial court, after expressing both the urgency of, and harm associated with, the alienation problem, ordered counsel to explore appropriate "next step" options. A follow-up case management conference was scheduled and noticed for August 13, 2019.

         At this August 13, 2019 case management conference, the reunification therapist advised the trial court that reunification between the Father and daughter was proceeding slowly; and the Mother was not supportive of the reunification efforts and, therefore, purposely or not, was undermining it. As a result, the reunification therapist recommended the Family Bridges Workshop. She explained to the trial court that Family Bridges was not a local program, that the Father and daughter would travel to a location where a "facilitator" was available, and that the Workshop lasted four days, followed by a ninety-day period in which the Mother would not be allowed any contact with her daughter.

         The Mother was given an opportunity to address the trial court and advised the court regarding the Mother's efforts to assist in the reunification process. Specifically, the Mother told the trial court about conversations she has with the child regarding the Father. Additionally, the Mother's counsel reported to the trial court that he had, as ordered, investigated and explored the Family Bridges program.[1]

         The trial judge, however, expressed his exasperation with the reunification efforts and announced his intention to order the parties to participate in the Family Bridges program, with the Mother initially to pay for the program, subject to taxation of costs at the end of the case.[2] The trial judge expressed how the ...


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