Weekly Law Update on Florida Divorce & Child Custody Cases

Weekly summaries of decisions made by Florida Court of Appeals on actual divorce, child custody, child support and alimony cases.  

Florida Divorce & Family Law Update for 2 Weeks Ending January 10, 2016

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:              A.C. v. D.C.F. and Adoptive Parents of R.A.
Court:             Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Kathleen J. Kroll.
Attorneys:     Ronald L. Bornstein, Meredith K. Hall, Bradenton, Philip M. Burlington.
Issues:           Termination.

Holding:      A motion for relief from judgment should not be summarily denied without an evidentiary hearing unless its allegations and accompanying affidavits fail to allege ‘colorable entitlement’ to relief. In this case, the trial court erred in denying the Mother’s motion to vacate the order terminating her parental rights on the basis that she lacked standing (an adoption situation). The appeals court reversed but expressed no opinion as to whether any colorable entitlement to relief under rule 8.270 was shown.

Case:              Forssell v. Forssell
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Laura M. Watson.
Attorneys:     Daniel E. Forrest, Joyce A. Julian.
Issues:           Time-sharing.

Holding:        In this case, the Father brought two appeals, that of a: 1. non-final order granting the emergency motion of the Mother to indefinitely suspend his time-sharing with their minor children; and 2. non-final order denying the parties’ joint request to vacate and dissolve the final judgment for protection against domestic violence, which the Mother had obtained against him. In this case, the trial court abused its discretion in failing to set out, in its order, the steps the Father must take to re-establish time-sharing. The appeals court consolidated two cases and reversed the time-sharing order in part and the order denying the motion to vacate and dissolve the injunction.

Case:              Benedict v. Benedict
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Tim Bailey.
Attorneys:     Herbert L. Benedict, William G. Crawford.
Issues:           Alimony.

Holding:      The Former Wife sought a judgment on alimony arrearages while the Former Husband’s petition to modify alimony was pending. The Former Husband appeals from the money judgment of the trial court. He argues that the judgment constituted error because he is disabled and unemployed and the Former Wife’s improved financial circumstances obviate her need for support. In this case, the trial court did not err as the Former Husband must raise his claims in the trial court during modification proceedings and must present evidence in support of his modification petition. The appeals court affirmed but without prejudice to the Former Husband proceeding on his modification petition and then seeking relief from the alimony arrearages judgment if the result of the modification proceeding warrants such relief.

Case:              S.L. v. D.C.F.
Court:             Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Lee A. Schreiber.
Attorneys:     Toni A. Butler, Meredith K. Hall, Laura Lawson.
Issues:           Termination.

Holding:        There are strict time frames in cases involving the termination of parental rights. Under the Florida Rule of Judicial Administration, there is a sixty-day time requirement for decisions by courts in such matters. There is also public policy of expediting termination proceedings. In this case, the trial court rendered its final judgment over eight months after the termination hearing (and only after the Guardian Ad Litem filed a motion for ruling on petition for termination of parental rights). During the eight-month delay, several events occurred that required judicial review, including a change of custody that separated the younger children from the older ones. The appeals court affirmed but wrote to emphasize that strict compliance with the rules and statutes governing the time frames in dependency and termination cases is required.


Case:              Felice v. Felice
Court:             Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Christine Greider.
Attorneys:     Appellant was pro se.
Issues:           Equitable Distribution, Parenting.


Equitable distribution
An inter-spousal agreement can expressly waive a Former Spouse's rights and claims in property, including the appreciated or enhanced value of property that occurs during the marriage. In this case, the trial court erred in including a portion of the value of the Former Husband's premarital home as a marital asset in the equitable distribution scheme. Even though the agreement did not specifically refer to any right to the appreciation or enhancement of his premarital home, the broad language of the agreement expressly waived the Former Wife's rights and claims in the property and was considered to include the appreciated or enhanced value of the property that occurred during the marriage. The appeals court reversed.

If a trial court modifies a parenting plan in an order on motions for rehearing it must also implement the new parenting plan in the amended final judgment. In this case, the trial court erred in failing to incorporate into the amended final judgment the amended parenting plan that was ordered on rehearing from the original final judgment. The appeals court reversed the amended final judgment to the extent that the parenting plan language and attached parenting plan were inconsistent with the trial court's rulings on rehearing and directed the trial court to amend to be consistent with same.

Case:              Pollack v. Pollack
Court:             Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Charles Hood.
Attorneys:     Richard J. D'Amico, Philip J. Bonamo.
Issues:           Alimony.

Holding:        In this case, the trial court erred by terminating alimony retroactively to the date when the recipient Former Wife Appellant began residing with her significant other, as opposed to the date when the payor Former Husband filed his petition to terminate alimony. The appeals court reversed and remanded with directions to the trial court to enter a new order terminating alimony retroactively to the date of the supplemental petition for modification.

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.