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.
Holding: Where a final judgment is reversed and remanded with specific instructions, the lower court has authority to conduct further proceedings in conformity with the instructions but the court cannot exceed the specific bounds of that instruction. The appellate court has inherent authority to enforce a mandate issued in a matter. In this case, the trial court erred when it, on remand, entered an amended final judgment that exceeded the scope of its mandate by changing the type of alimony awarded from permanent to durational. The prior opinion of the appellate court specifically and unambiguously directed the trial court to make additional findings concerning the parties’ incomes and expenses, and if necessary, to reconsider the amount of the alimony award. The opinion did not authorize the trial court to reconsider the type of alimony awarded. By changing the type of alimony awarded from permanent to durational, the trial court impermissibly exceeded the scope of the mandate. The appeals court granted the motion to enforce the mandate, quash the amended final judgment, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its prior opinion.
Case: Reider v. Reider
Court: Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: Neil A. Roddenbery.
Attorneys: Debra J. Sutton.
Holding: Under Florida Statute, trial courts have the authority to enforce alimony payments with injunctions. Injunctive relief must be presented to the court for decision. The evidentiary record must be sufficient to support such injunctions and the injunctive order must contains a statement of the reasons why the injunctions were entered. In this case, the trial court erred in ordering certain measures to enforce the Former Husband's obligations under the parties’ judgment and Marital Settlement Agreement that expressly, or substantively, enjoin him to take, or refrain from taking, certain actions with respect to his non-marital property. These measures were not part of the claim for relief or set out in the pleadings. Furthermore, the evidentiary record was not sufficient to support these injunctions and the order on appeal contains no statement of the reasons why these injunctions were entered. One such provision threatens incarceration if he failed to sell a home he maintained in another state and use the resulting proceeds to satisfy an alimony arrearage. Another enjoins him from transferring any of the property listed on his financial affidavit except for purposes of satisfying the alimony arrearage. The appeals court reversed on point.
Case: Viruet v. Grace
Court: Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: Heather Pinder Rodriguez.
Attorneys: Scott E. Siverson.
Issues: Child Support.
Holding: When ordering a party to pay toward child support arrears, the trial court must specify the amount of retroactive support owed in the final judgment or elsewhere. In this case, the trial court erred in ordering the Former Husband to pay a set monthly amount toward arrearage in child support when the final judgment (or the magistrate’s report, which the trial court approved) failed to state the amount of the retroactive child support owed. The appeals court reversed and remanded.
Case: Manubens v. Manubens
Court: Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: Mike Murphy.
Attorneys: Mark A. Skipper, Sherri K. DeWitt.
Holding: Certiorari jurisdiction lies to review an order compelling a mental examination. However, certiorari relief can only be granted if the trial court's order amounts to a departure from the essential requirements of the law, resulting in a miscarriage of justice. Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure govern the examination of persons in family law matters as to mental conditions. Under the Rules, a party may request any other party to submit to examination by a qualified expert when the condition that is the subject of the requested examination is in controversy. An examination is authorized only when the party submitting the request has good cause for the examination. The party submitting the request has the burden of showing that both the “in controversy” and “good cause” prongs have been satisfied. The burden of proof is heightened when the party to be examined has not voluntarily placed that issue in controversy. An order for examination must specify the manner, conditions, and scope of an examination. Failure to do so effectively gives the psychologist “carte blanche” to perform any type of testing and analysis. Such an open-ended order departs from the essential requirements of the law, resulting in a miscarriage of justice.
In this court, the trial court erred in ordering the Former Wife to undergo psychological counseling. Specifically, (1) the trial court made no findings that her mental health was in controversy; and (2) the language of the order was too broad because it did not identify the length of the examination, the type of testing, or limits of the testing. The trial court's order did not address either the “in controversy” or the “good cause” requirements of the Rules. The appeals court quashed the order.
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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.