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 and Family Law Update for Week Ending May 1, 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:              Ketcher v. Ketcher
Court:            First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Linda F. McCallum.
Attorneys:     Brian P. North, Summer N. Boyd.
Issues:            Procedure.

Holding:      An alimony award must be supported by sufficient findings to demonstrate that the payee spouse has a need for the amount of alimony awarded and the payer spouse has the ability to pay that amount. A trial court has the authority to require a payor spouse to obtain and maintain a life insurance policy naming the payee spouse as the beneficiary in order to secure his or her obligation to pay a marital debt. The amount of the life insurance policy must be related to the extent of the obligation being secured.  In this case, the trial court erred regarding:

1. the adequacy of the alimony award because the final judgment contained insufficient findings to permit meaningful review of the award; and

2. the requirement that the Former Husband obtain life insurance to secure his obligation as part of the equitable distribution scheme because the amount of life insurance ordered exceeded the amount of his liability, without explanation. The appeals court reversed.

Case:              Minda v. Minda
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Walt D. Logan, Thomas Ramsberger.
Attorneys:     Jonathan Jonasz, Cristiana Esteves, Sarah M. Chaves.
Issues:            Alimony.

Holding:      A motion for relief from judgment should not be summarily dismissed without an evidentiary hearing unless the allegations and affidavits fail to allege colorable entitlement to relief. In this case, the trial court erred in dismissing the Former Wife's motion to vacate a default judgment as it was facially sufficient and alleged a colorable entitlement to relief. The appeals court reverse and remanded for a formal evidentiary hearing on the motion.

Case:              D.M.J. v. A.T.J.
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Martha J. Cook.
Issues:            Parenting, Child Support, Time-sharing.

Holding:        A time-sharing schedule may not be modified without a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances and a finding that the modification is in the best interests of the child. The petitioning party has the burden of proof.  Relocation is not a substantial change if the move is not a significant distance away from the child's current location. A child’s best interests must be considered by the court. A 45-mile move has been found to not constitute a substantial change warranting modification.  

 In this case, the trial court erred as it failed to consider the statutory best interests of the child in entering the orders on appeal. It did not find that a substantial change, regarding the Father’s relocation, occurred. Nor did it indicate that its findings and modification of the time-sharing plan were based upon the Father's move. The appeals court reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing to consider the statutory best interests of the child.

Case:              Dillion v. Dept. of Revenue (Child Support)
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:
Attorneys:      Pamela Jo Bondi, Toni C. Bernstein.
Issues:            Child Support.

Holding:      A noncustodial parent’s child support obligation is calculated based on the financial affidavits submitted by the parties along with any other information available to the Department. Where a child spends a substantial amount of time with the noncustodial parent under a timesharing arrangement, a reduction in that parent’s child support obligation is mandated. If an agency enters an order on undisputed evidence, the order must be upheld by this court if it is supported by competent, substantial evidence. In this case, the Department erred when it failed to conduct an evidentiary hearing because the financial affidavits submitted by the parties presented disputed facts which affected the calculation of the Father’s support obligation. The appeals court vacated and remanded.

Case:              Turk v. Turk
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Charles E. Burton.
Attorneys:     Craig A. Boudreau, Gary D. Weiner, Scott M. Weiss.
Issues:            Contempt, Time-sharing.

Holding:        A person cannot be held in contempt for failure to comply with something that a judicial order does not say. In this case, the trial court erred in granting the Mother’s motion for contempt alleging that the Father knowingly and intentionally withheld the children from her for one day in violation of a specific provision of their time-sharing agreement. The noted provision, however, on reasonable interpretation, did not require him to permit visitation on the date he allegedly violated the agreement. The appeals court reversed.

Case:              Mills v. Mills
Court:            Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Morgan Laur Reinman.
Attorneys:     Amy D. Shield, Roger Levine, Philip Fougerousse.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution.

Holding:      Liabilities incurred by forgery or unauthorized signature of the other spouse's name are nonmarital liabilities and are the sole burden of the spouse committing the fraud unless the liability was subsequently ratified by the other spouse. In this case, the trial court erred in concluding that the Former Husband made numerous investments on behalf of the parties which were profitable in the past despite his admission that he forged her signature on a loan (and there was no evidence to suggest she ratified the loan). The loan was a nonmarital liability of Former Husband. However, the loan was paid off using marital funds from his retirement accounts. Therefore, the trial court should have classified a portion of the loss as the nonmarital liability of Former Husband. The appeals court reversed and remanded.


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.