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 22, 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:             Watford v. Watford  
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Krista Marx.
Attorneys:      J. Harley Toufanian, Joseph J. Mancini.
Issues:            Alimony, Equitable Distribution, Attorney’s Fees.

Holding:       A final judgment awarding alimony must include findings of fact to support the award, based on the listed statutory factors. Net income is used to calculate alimony. In ordering attorney’s fees, a trial court shall make findings as to the parties’ respective ability to pay, the reasonableness of the hourly rate and the hours expended. In this case, the trial court erred as the final judgment on alimony did not include factual findings regarding the statutory factors and the trial court erroneously relied on the Former Husband’s gross income, not his net income, in calculating alimony. Nor was there evidence that the Former Husband’s alleged dissipation of assets resulted from intentional misconduct. Finally, while the trial court found the Former Wife had the need for attorney’s fees, it did not make any findings as to Former Husband’s ability to pay, or the reasonableness of the hourly rate and hours expended. The appeals court reversed.       

Case:             Henry v. Henry
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Jeffrey Dana Gillen.
Attorneys:      Bruce S. Rosenwater, Anne M. Lynch. Eddie Stephens.
Issues:            Alimony, Equitable Distribution, Attorney’s Fees.

Holding:       Alimony and child support awards must be based on the parties’ net income, properly calculated. In this case, the trial court erred in making awards of child support, alimony, retroactive child support and retroactive alimony based on miscalculated incomes of the parties. The trial court also erred in calculating retroactive child support using a 60/40 timesharing split (which applies to prospective child support despite) the evidence showing a 50/50 split during the retroactive period. Nor did the trial court make specific findings of the Former Wife’s need and the Former Husband’s ability to pay during the relevant period. The appeals court reversed.

Case:             Gonzalez v. Walker
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Amy L. Smith.
Attorneys:      Leonel R. Plasencia, Curt Sanchez, Robin Bresky, Jonathan Mann.
Issues:            Paternity, Timesharing, Child Support.

Holding:     A party is entitled to adequate notice of proceedings and the claims faced. Competent evidence is required to show that the parties would not be able to work together effectively for their child’s best interests.  In this case, the trial court erred in granting ultimate decision-making authority to the Former Husband when: (a) the pleadings did not provide the Former Wife adequate notice of what was being claimed; and (b) there was no evidence of a continuing pattern of hostility showing that the parties would not be able to work together for their child’s best interests.

Case:             N.H. v. D.C.F.
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Lee A. Schreiber.
Attorneys:      Michael Mummert, Laura J. Lee, Meredith K. Hall.
Issues:            Certiorari.

Holding:         Under Florida Statutes (2015), a trial court may shelter a child if probable cause exists to believe that the child has been abused, neglected, abandoned, or is in imminent danger of illness or injury as a result of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The connection between the unexplained abuse of a child and the substantial risk of significant harm to a sibling can warrant the removal of both children, even though one child has yet to be abused. In this case, the trial court erred when it found probable cause to shelter only one of four minor children (siblings) based on the parents' alleged physical abuse, concluding that the other siblings were not at risk of potential harm. Specifically, the trial court departed from the essential requirements of law when it failed to shelter similarly situated siblings and required actual evidence of actual physical harm. The appeals court reversed.

Case:             Lucas v. Lucas
Court:            Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   David B. Beck.
Attorneys:      Corrine A. Bylund, Armistead W. Ellis, Jr..
Issues:            Equitable Distribution, Alimony.

Holding:        In determining eligibility and liability for alimony, the trial court shall first make a specific factual determination as to the respective parties’ need and ability to pay. In this case, the trial court erred in failing to make specific factual findings as to the Former Wife’s claim. It further erred by incorrectly valuing the Former Wife’s IRA account (the distribution should reflect the actual value of the account) and distributed the parties’ credit-card debts as marital debt without making a specific finding as to the value. 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.