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 8, 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:             Ivanovich v. Valladarez
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Keith Spoto, William D. Sites.
Attorneys:      Elizabeth S. Wheeler.
Issues:            Child Support, Attorney’s Fees.

Holding:         Child Support

A retroactive child support obligation may not be imposed prior to the filing of a petition seeking a modification. On a motions for modification, a trial court may modify child support retroactively to the date of the filing of the action or supplemental action for modification. In a custody proceeding, the court is precluded from entering a judgment on any matter outside the issues framed by the pleadings. Specific findings regarding the parties' incomes are necessary for a determination of whether the support ordered departed from the guidelines and, if so, whether that departure was justified. The expenses of visitation are part of the parties' childrearing expenses that must be addressed as part of the parties' child support obligations.

In this case, the trial court erred in ordering retroactive child support to the Former Husband when he sought only custody and not a modification of child support as well. His request for modification of child support was made later, when he sought permanent custody. The relevant date for purposes of child support was not when he received custody of the child; it was when he filed a pleading seeking modification of child support. As well, the trial court imputed income to the Former Wife, but did not make specific findings regarding the Former Husband's income. The lack of findings regarding gross income prevented the appeals court from determining whether the trial court erred, so the order was reversed. Finally, the trial court erred in not factoring into the child support calculations the expenses of the Former Wife regarding visitation. The appeals court reversed and remanded for reconsideration.

Attorney’s Fees

The trial court did not make any findings of need and ability to pay, which are the primary considerations in such matters. The trial court was also required to make findings regarding the reasonable hourly rate and number of hour expended. While the trial court found the Former Husband's request for fees reasonable as to the time expended and hourly rate for fees, it failed to make any findings regarding the reasonable hourly rate. The appeals court affirmed the order denying the Former Wife's motion to vacate the first order, but reversed the first order due to error.

Case:             Lardizzone v. Lardizzone
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Laurie E. Buchanan.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution.

Holding:         Marital assets and liabilities include liabilities incurred during the marriage, individually or jointly. The cut-off date for determining which assets and liabilities are marital is the earliest of the date the parties enter into a valid separation agreement, such other date as may be expressly established by such agreement, or the date of the filing of a petition for dissolution of marriage. In the final judgment, the trial court found that the Former Husband incurred significant medical bills from an injury that occurred while the parties were married. It then characterized them as a marital liability for which the parties should be equally responsible. However, these  findings were ambiguous as there were amounts of unpaid bills not yet determined. The appeals court reversed and remand for the clarification of the amount of unpaid medical bills for which he was personally liable on the cut-off date for determining marital liabilities.

Case:              Feliciano v. Munoz-Feliciano
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Nicholas Lopane.
Attorneys:      Catherine L. Roselli, Nancy A. Hass.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution.

Holding:         The interpretation of a marital settlement agreement, as incorporated into the final judgment, is subject to de novo review. A marital settlement agreement is interpreted like any other contract. Courts are not to rewrite terms that are “clear and unambiguous. The plain meaning of the contract specified that payment from the Former Husband to the Former Wife would come from his share of the proceeds of the sale of the marital home. This agreement provided that the parties did not want any “deficit payments”. In this case, the trial court’s order contradicted the terms of the marital settlement agreement when it found the Former Wife was entitled to additional funds subsequent to the sale of the matrimonial home (a deficit payment) and entered judgment against the Former Husband in that amount. The order for a deficit payment constituted error. The appeals court reversed.

Case:              Perez v. Perez
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Michael J. Scionti.
Attorneys:      Allison M. Perry, Sema Yildirim.
Issues:            Child Support, Alimony.

Holding:         Trial courts have great jurisdiction in making temporary relief awards, but it is improper for the trial court to fail to identify which share of the award is for child support and which intended to be alimony. The trial court must also make findings regarding the parties' incomes for purposes of applying the child support guidelines. In this case, the trial court erred as its order failed to differentiate between child support and alimony. It required the Former Husband to pay for rent on the Former Wife's apartment and her moving expenses but did not identify whether that was alimony or child support. The trial court also failed to make any findings regarding the parties' incomes. The appeals court reversed.

Case:             Corio v. Lopez
Court:            Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Bob Leblanc.
Attorneys:      Michael B. Jones.
Issues:            Paternity, Venue.

Holding:         A paternity action lies in the circuit court for the county in which either the plaintiff or defendant resides. When venue is proper in more than one county, a plaintiff may choose to institute suit in any proper place and the trial court must honor that choice. In seeking a change of venue, the defendant has the burden of proving that the plaintiff’s venue selection is improper; it is insufficient to merely establish that venue is proper elsewhere.

In this case, the trial court erred when, without a hearing, it granted the Plaintiff Father’s motion and transferred the action to another venue. He was deprived of due process when the trial court entered the order without affording him the opportunity to be heard on the motion. Notwithstanding, the trial court erred when it concluded that the venue needed to be changed as he had filed in the appropriate venue. The appeals court reversed.

Case:             Salazar v. Giraldo 
Court:            Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Mark J. Hill.
Attorneys:      Jeffrey A. Conner, Brian M. Monk.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution.

Holding:         Florida Statutes (2015), holds that a party is not entitled to any credits or setoffs upon the sale of the marital home unless a settlement agreement, final judgment of dissolution of marriage, or final judgment equitably distributes assets or debts and provides that certain credits or setoffs are allowed or given at the time of the sale. In the absence of a settlement agreement involving the marital home, the court shall consider certain enumerated factors including alimony, exclusive possession and other awards and circumstances. Specifically, the amended final judgment was silent as to whether he was entitled to any credits or setoffs upon the sale. Nor did the record show whether the trial court considered the statutory factors it was required to assess prior to entering judgment. The appeals court reversed and remanded for proper consideration.

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.