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: Nolan v. Nolan
Court: First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: E. McRae Mathis.
Attorneys: Gary Baker, Barry L. Zisser, Corrine A. Bylund.
Issues: Alimony, Equitable Distribution, Attorney’s Fees.
Holding: Equitable Distribution
The reversal and remand of the equitable distribution portion of the final judgment necessitates reversal and remand of the alimony and attorney’s fees portions of the final judgment as well. As such, other aspects of the final judgment required reversal and remand.
Florida Statutes (2015), directs the trial court to first make a specific factual determination as to whether either party has an actual need for alimony and whether the other party has the ability to pay. If the trial court so determines, it must then consider all of the relevant factors in section 61.08(2)(a)-(j), Florida Statutes (2015). The parties here were married for 33 years, which is considered a long-term marriage which raised a rebuttal presumption of entitlement to permanent alimony. In this case, the trial court erred as the alimony award was not adequately supported by the evidence or the findings in the final judgment. While Florida Statutes (2015), directs the trial court to consider all sources of income available to either party, (including overtime and bonuses) it simultaneously recognized that a seven-day work week is not reasonable. The trial court erred in calculating the alimony award based upon the husband’s income that was unsustainable and that was also shown, both by the evidence and basic notions of reasonableness, to be no longer available to him.
A trial court abuses its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees if the equal distribution of the marital property has been achieved and the trial court equalized incomes through its alimony awards. Florida Statutes (2015), allows the trial court to order a party to pay a reasonable amount of attorney’s fees after considering the financial resources of both parties.
In this case, the trial court erred as, it awarded attorney’s fees when the final judgment placed the Former Wife in a substantially equal position as the Former Husband. The appeals court remanded.
Case: Bielling v. Bielling
Court: First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: W. Gregg McCaulie.
Attorneys: Christopher T. Wilson.
Issues: Child Support, Time Sharing, Parenting.
Holding: Due process requires that a party be given the opportunity to be heard and to testify and call witnesses on his or her behalf. The denial of this right is fundamental error. Denial of due process is valid basis for disqualification of a trial judge but an appellate court requires an order at issue properly before it to review. In this case, the trial court erred as it entered final judgment without notice to the parties, while the hearing was ongoing. The appeals court reversed but as issue of disqualification was not properly before it, could not address it.
Case: B.G. v. D.C.F.
Court: Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: Kirk C. Volker.
Attorneys: Thomas Montgomery, Meredith K. Hall, Bradenton, Sara E. Goldfarb.
Holding: A court cannot relinquish jurisdiction to circumvent The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (“ICPC”). In this case, the trial court erred in relinquishing jurisdiction of a matter regarding dependency in Florida (where the Mother had custody pursuant to a Domestic Relations Order) to Texas (where the Father resided and had obtained a Shelter Order). Specifically, it: a) found that the Child was permanently placed with the Father by virtue of the Shelter Order, which did not alter the Father’s status as the noncustodial parent under the prior the Mother’s Domestic Relations order; b) tried to circumvent the ICPC; and c) relinquished jurisdiction over the Child in the middle of a dependency case after removing her from the Mother who had custody under a prior court order. The appeals court vacated and remanded.
Case: S.M. v. D.C.F.
Court: Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: Michelle T. Morley.
Attorneys: Summer N. Boyd, Deborah A. Schroth, Christopher S. Mulligan, WendieMichelle Cooper.
Holding: An order for termination must be founded on compelling, substantive evidence and proper application of such evidence to the relevant statutory provisions. In this case, the trial court did not err when it ordered termination of the Father’s parental rights as the order. There were multiple statutory grounds properly found by the trial court. The appeals court affirmed but remanded for clarification of the order on entry.
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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.