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: Tucker v. Tucker
Court: Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: Merrilee Ehrlich.
Attorneys: Theresa Yuricic.
Issues: Equitable Distribution, Alimony, Contempt.
Holding: A trial court’s property valuation must be supported by competent, substantial evidence. By entering the final order before a party has had an opportunity to be heard, a trial court deprives him or her of the due process guaranteed by the Florida Constitution. Facts are not established for consideration by the trial court, or by appellate review, when attorneys make representations in their arguments before the trial court. Same does not constitute evidence. In setting the value of assets, a trial court must base its decision on proper evidence and provide findings as to the valuation. In this case the trial court erred as its stock valuation for an equitable distribution was not supported by competent, substantial evidence because of three errors. The trial court erred in determining the value of the stock:
1. before the Former Wife finished presenting her evidence;
2. without hearing the Former Husband’s evidence, instead, relying on his attorney’s unsworn statement;
3. by making its own assessment, without providing a factual explanation.
The appeals court reversed and remanded for the court to resume and complete the evidentiary hearing.
Case: D.W.Q. v. A.B.
Court: Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: John M. Alexander.
Attorneys: Robert L. McLeod II, Leslie H. Morton, William S. Graessle, Jonathan W. Graessle, John L. Whiteman, J. Stephen Alexander.
Issues: Termination, Procedure.
Holding: It is a denial of procedural due process rights of notice and fair hearing to terminate parental rights on a ground not pleaded. Adequate notice and meaningful hearing are required before a trial court can properly order the termination of substantive rights. Additionally, a trial court's written order must establish that it considered and evaluated each of the relevant statutory factors in reaching its decision as to the manifest best interests of the child. Finally, a trial court must consider all the evidence admitted at trial before rendering its decision.
In this case, the trial court erred as it terminated the Father’s parental rights on a ground not alleged in the Mother’s petition. The petition did not allege termination for egregious conduct under the relevant provisions of Florida statute, (it simply alleged that termination was warranted under other statutory provisions.) Termination for egregious conduct was not tried by consent because it was not mentioned in opening or during the presentation of Mother's evidence at trial. Further, the trial court's order of termination was deficient in that it failed to include findings for the each relevant statutory factor regarding the child's manifest best interests. Finally, the trial court erred in that it did not, ostensibly, review all evidence before it prior to making the order. The appeals court reversed and remanded for the trial court to reconsider its ruling after reviewing all admitted evidence.
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.