LOCATION: Circuit Court for Hillsborough County
DOCKET NO.: 82-1734
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court
CITATION: 466 US 429 (1984)
ARGUED: Feb 22, 1984
DECIDED: Apr 24, 1984
John E. Hawtrey - Argued the cause for the respondent
Robert J. Shapiro - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Facts of the case
Anthony and Linda Sidoti, both Caucasians, were divorced and Linda was awarded custody of their daughter. One year later, Anthony sought custody of the child after Linda began cohabitating with Clarence Palmore, an African-American. The Florida courts awarded Mr. Sidoti custody of the child, arguing that the child would be more vulnerable to social stigmatization in a racially mixed household. No evidence was introduced that indicated Ms. Sidoti was unfit to continue the custody of the child.
Did the removal of the child from Linda Sidoti's custody violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
Media for Palmore v. Sidoti
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 22, 1984 in Palmore v. Sidoti
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you gentlemen the case is submitted, we will hear arguements next in the case of Palmore against Sidoti.
Mr. Shapiro, I think you may proceed when you are ready.
Robert J. Shapiro:
Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice.
May it please the Court, this case is here on a writ of certiorari to the Second District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida.
The question presented is whether the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a court from considering or from relying upon a subsequent interracial marriage of the custodial parent as a ground for ordering a change of custody.
Now, if I may, the facts are straightforward in this case, and I would like to go through them very quickly and get right to the argument.
Is it your contention that that's the only ground on which the judgment is based?
Robert J. Shapiro:
In this case, absolutely.
And I'd like to explain how that occurred.
We had a final judgment of dissolution of marriage in this case between the petitioner and the respondent, both of whom are white.
The custody of their three-year-old daughter was awarded to the petitioner, the mother here.
Subsequently, the husband... the father, I'm sorry... filed a petition for modification.
He alleged in his petition that the mother was living with a black man who she later married, that the child had two bouts of head lice, and that the child had been seen wearing a mildewed dress.
Now, at the hearing on this matter, the final hearing, the parties and their new spouses testified, and the report of the Circuit Court counsel was accepted.
The Order which the Circuit Court entered on March 1, 1982 changed custody and awarded it to the father.
There were no findings made regarding the father's secondary allegations... and it was called "secondary allegations" by the trial judge... of the mildewed dress or the head lice.
The court noted that she had lived with man before marrying him.
But the court also held that each of the parents, the father and the mother here, were devoted parents and that each had remarried respectable spouses.
And then in the important phrase in this case, the court stated:
"This Court feels that, despite the strides that have been made in bettering relations between the races in this country, it is inevitable that Melanie will, if allowed to remain in her present situation and attain school age and, thus, more vulnerable to peer pressures, suffer from the social stigmatization that is sure to come. "
Now, it's important to note that this is not a neglect case.
There was no finding of neglect, contrary to respondent's arguments in his brief.
There was no finding about lack of health care, lack of hygiene, lack of clothing or any type of neglect, and certainly no finding of any inability to cope on the part of the mother.
It's important to remember that in Florida, once a custody decree has been entered, the noncustodial parent has an extraordinary burden in order to change that.
That person must, by competent substantial evidence, show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances, and, No. 2, that there have been adverse effects on the child.
And this is because the focus is the best interest of the children, the best interest of the child.
And if it cannot be shown that there was a substantial change in circumstances and an adverse effect on the child, then it has not been shown that the original determination as to what was in the best interest of the child should be disturbed.
And the reason for this is that the custody determinations are not res judicata, but they must be given some measure of finality.
Otherwise, people would be changing custody on a regular basis.