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 Week Ending March 29, 2015

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:              W.W. v. D.C.F.
Court:             First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Not Stated.
Attorneys:      Randi E. Dincher, Kelley Schaeffer, Ward L. Metzger.
Issues:            Appellate Jurisdiction.

Holding:       Pursuant to recent amendments to Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, a post-dependency order on an authorized motion that fully resolves the issues raised by the motion is reviewable as a final order.  An appeals court can properly review a post-dependency final order by appeal rather than by petition for writ of certiorari.

Case:              Clark v. Clark
Court:             First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Not Stated.
Attorneys:      Michael J. Korn, David A. Garfinkel, William S. Graessle, Jonathan W. Graessle.
Issues:            Procedure. 
Holding:         In order to decide whether a motion to disqualify is legally sufficient, a
determination must be made as to whether the facts alleged would place a reasonably prudent person in fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial. Adverse rulings are insufficient to show bias. In this case, the trial court did not err when it issued a supplemental final judgment discounting the credibility of the Petitioner’s witness and tracking the language of the Respondent’s proposed supplemental final judgment. Purported statements made by the trial court to the Petitioner’s witness were insufficient to show bias particularly as the trial court also noted that it was a difficult case and that one proposed order had to be selected over the other. 

Case:              Wade v. Wade
Court:            Third District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   George A. Sarduy.
Attorneys:      Lisa Marie Macci, Evan R. Marks, Carolyn W. West.
Issues:            Parenting, Custody. 

Holding:       Where the issues on appeal arise from a final post-judgment order on time-sharing and custody and pertain to whether the trial court contradicted and impermissibly modified the terms of a Final Custody Judgment (“FCJ”), then the standard of review is dual.  The appeals court’s assessment of whether a trial court has modified a FCJ is a de novo review; while the trial court’s findings of fact and rulings based on the evidentiary record are reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard. Simply because parties have the resources to frequently appeal adjustments of time-sharing, it does not follow that every such adjustment warrants the comprehensive appellate review accorded a substantive post-judgment modification.  Parties should rely on the parenting coordination provisions of an FCJ as they were intended to offer a path of confidentiality and non-judicial resolution for the benefit of the children and the parties.  In this case, the trial court’s adjustments to certain notice provisions of the FCJ were not modifications.  The procedural aspects and logistics of parenting, access and other related matters, and the consequences of non-compliance, are ordinarily within the discretion of the trial judge. The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s order on the time-sharing provisions. 

Case:              Marchek v. Marchek
Court:             Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Elisabeth Adams.
Attorneys:      Matthew P. Irwin, Sam R. Assini.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution. 

Holding:         A trial court’s valuation of the business income in a property distribution, and the determination of an equalizer payment, must be based on competent, substantial evidence. For the purpose of determining the amount of income that is attributable to a spouse in computing alimony, Florida Statutes (2010), defines "income" as any payment to an individual, no matter what the source, and includes wages, salary, commissions and bonuses, compensation as an independent contractor, various benefits, and dividends and interest. In calculating a party's monthly income, business expenses must be deducted from the party's gross income. A trial court can consider any source of income but it cannot hypothesize amounts or use gross income amounts. In this case, the trial court erred in determining equitable distribution and an equity payment based on income figures that were not otherwise supported by the record. The appeals court we reversed that portion of the final judgment of dissolution. 

Case:              R.W. v. D.C.F.
Court:             First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Karen A. Gievers.
Attorneys:      M. Linville Atkins, Dwight O. Slater, Kelley Schaeffer.
Issues:            Termination. 

Holding:       A surrender of parental rights may only be set aside if the court finds that the surrender was obtained by fraud or duress.  To invoke an appeal court’s jurisdiction to review an order of termination of parental rights, a notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days of rendition of the order. In this case, the trial court erred in denying the petitioner Mother’s post-judgment motion to set aside the surrender of her parental rights.  An order denying a motion for relief from judgment is an appealable non-final order. In this case the trial court did not err in denying the motion to appeal the final order of parental termination as the petition was not filed or drafted properly and in a timely fashion.  Absent an appeal of the order on the motion for relief from judgment, an otherwise unpreserved issue raised in a post-judgment motion is not to be considered in the appeal of the underlying judgment. The appeals court dismissed the appeal as it sought to review the trial court’s ruling on the mother’s post-judgment motion to set aside the surrender of her parental rights, which was not prepared and filed properly. The appeals court affirmed the final judgment terminating the mother’s parental rights to the child. 


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.