Below are summaries of recent decisions from Florida's appellate courts on Florida divorce and family law issues. Clicking on the case name allows you to view the appellate opinion described in the analysis below. These summaries are courtesy of Bruce Law Firm, P.A., a law firm limited to representation of clients in the mediation, litigation and appeals of Florida marital and family law matters. The firm also created and maintains the family law focused appellate resources website DivorceCourtAppeals.com.
Case: Johnson v. Johnson
Court: First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: David C. Wiggins
Attorneys: Lawrence C. Datz, Neal Betancourt
Issues: Equitable Distribution
Holding: Parties to a dissolution action can agree that the determination of their respective shares of retirement proceeds will be made pursuant to an agreed-upon formula to be applied once disbursement of retirement proceeds begins. A trial court should uphold and maintain such agreements. In this case, the trial court erred when it failed to comply with the unambiguous terms of the parties’ Consent Final Judgment. The issue of pension division was reversed and remanded for the trial court to enforce the Former Wife’s entitlement to the Former Husband’s military pension as required by the express terms of the parties’ agreement set forth in the Consent Final Judgment.
Case: Lamb v. Lamb
Court: Fifth District Court of Appeal
Trial Judge: Mark J. Hill
Attorneys: Nicholas A. Shannin, Richard Valle
Issues: Equitable Distribution, Procedural Fairness, Choice of Law
Holding: Procedural Fairness
Procedural due process guarantees every person the right to fair and impartial treatment throughout the administration of justice. It also guarantees a party fair notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard before judgment is rendered. In this case, the trial court erred when it allowed the Former Wife’s motion requesting that the Former Husband’s pleadings be struck. The matters proceeded to trial without the Former Husband’s position being fully presented and articulated.
In this case, the trial court erred in that its order was not supported by proper and adequate findings and it forged a situation whereby the Former Husband was ‘unheard’ at trial. While the trial court conceded error after the fact and tried to rectify the situation, in actuality, the Former Husband was deprived of full access to justice. The appeals court remanded for a new trial and directed the specific determination of issues regarding the choice-of-law and an alleged payment to the Former Wife.
When determining whether to apply Florida law or foreign law to a contract, a court must first apply Florida’s choice-of-law rules. Generally, Florida courts enforce contractual choice-of-law provisions unless enforcing the chosen forum’s law would contravene strong Florida public policy. The party seeking to avoid enforcement of the choice-of-law provision has the burden of demonstrating that the foreign law contravenes public policy. Here, the trial court erred when it found that the Former Husband did not meet his burden to apply Scottish law, and went on to apply Florida law. In finding that Former Husband “did not meet his burden,” the trial court improperly shifted the burden of proof from the Former Wife who was challenging the application of the parties’ ante-nuptial agreement (created in another jurisdiction).
About DivorceCourtAppeals.com and Bruce Law Firm, P.A.
The Bruce Law Firm, P.A. is limited to the resolution of marital and family la w matters in Florida’s trial and appellate courts. The firm handles divorce litigation in South Florida and accepts referrals for appellate representation in all of Florida’s appellate courts. The firm pays referral fees in accordance with Florida Bar Rules for appellate matters, which are handled primarily on a fixed fee basis with a limited money back promise if the brief is not filed within 45 days of the firm receiving the transcript and record on appeal.