On Wednesday, April 3, 2024, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District granted a father’s petition to disqualify the judge presiding over his child custody case. The father, H.S., sought sole physical and legal custody of his child, who was assigned male at birth but identifies as female.

H.S. is a Christian minister who believes that gender transition should not occur before adulthood. The child had been living with H.S. but was removed from his custody by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) due to concerns about the father opposing the child’s desired gender transition.

The appeals court found that the trial judge made remarks during an in-camera interview with the child that implied prejudgment of the case before hearing arguments. The judge used female pronouns and nicknames for the child rather than their legal name. She also told the child she could order counseling for the father to change his religious views on gender transition.

These comments by the trial judge reasonably gave the impression that she supported the child’s gender transition and did not believe the father’s religious beliefs should determine the child’s upbringing. Under Florida law, parents have the right to direct the moral and religious training of their children.

The appeals court determined the father’s fear of not receiving a fair hearing from the trial judge was justified. By appearing to prejudge the case and undermine the father’s parental rights, the trial judge demonstrated bias, requiring her recusal. The case will now be assigned to a new judge.

The ruling reaffirmed that parents can rely on moral and religious views in raising children, including decisions around medical care like gender transition. It also showed the importance of an impartial judge who has not formed opinions before considering evidence and legal arguments. The decision ensures the father will receive a fresh, unbiased review of whether he can regain custody of his child.

Please contact AbusiveDiscretion for access to a copy of this filing.