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: Liberatore v. Liberatore
Court: Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: Bob Leblanc.
Attorneys: Robin I. Bresky, Cynthia Greene.
Issues: Equitable Distribution.
Holding: On remand, a lower court must strictly follow the instructions of an appellate court. Typically, when a lower court commits reversible error in valuing or distributing marital assets, the entire distribution plan must be reversed and reconsidered on remand. This is because each division and distribution of a marital asset and liability is interrelated to form an overall scheme fair to both parties. However, in some instances, an error in an equitable distribution plan can be corrected in isolation; in those circumstances, an appellate court may direct the lower court to correct only that error in isolation. In this case the trial court erred in moving away from the instructions of the appeals court in reconsideration of equitable distribution. The trial court proceeded, at the request of the Former Husband, to address a post-judgment sale of the parties’ martial residence while reconsidering the distribution of the marital assets. The appeals court reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the entire equitable scheme.
Case: M.N. Jr. v. D.C.F.
Court: Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: Lawrence Mirman.
Attorneys: Chet E. Weinbaum, Karla Perkins, Laura E. Lawson.
Holding: Florida Statutes (2013) provides that an action or proceeding of any kind to vacate, set aside, or otherwise nullify a judgment of adoption . . . may not be filed more than 1 year after entry of the judgment terminating parental rights. In this case, the trial court erred in dismissing a biological Father’s second motion to set aside the termination order in the adoption of his biological child on procedural grounds (ie: notice). In fact, the motion in issue was statute-barred as it was filed more than one year after the termination order was entered. The appeals court affirmed.
Case: Ledoux-Nottingham v. Downs
Court: Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge: Bob LeBlanc.
Attorneys: Jamie Billotte Moses, Leigh Anne Miller, Andrew T. Windle.
Issues: Grandparent Visitation, Attorney’s Fees.
A Florida court shall recognize and enforce a child custody determination of a court of another state if the latter court exercised jurisdiction in substantial conformity with this part or the determination was made under factual circumstances meeting the jurisdictional standards of Florida laws. In this case, trial court did not err when it enforced the Colorado order determining visitation for the Grandparents after the Mother moved from Colorado to Florida. Since the Colorado order was a final judgment and emanated from a “child custody proceeding” within the meaning of Florida Statutes (2013), it became enforceable in Florida pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Accordingly, the trial courts was required, without discretion, to give recognition to final judgments of another state.
A party seeking modification of a time-sharing schedule has the burden of proving (1) a substantial and material change in circumstances, and (2) that the best interests of the child will be promoted by such modification. The substantial and material change in circumstances must have occurred subsequent to the last order addressing time-sharing. In this case, the trial court properly determined that there had not been a substantial and material change in circumstances during the 13 days between the entry of the Colorado order and the filing of Mother’s petition.
In such circumstances, a trial court is not necessarily precluded from ordering make-up visitation. On remand, the trial court was directed to promptly address the Grandparents’ motion for make-up visitation.
Florida States (2013) provides that if a court has personal jurisdiction over the party against whom attorney’s fees are being assessed, the court shall award the prevailing party, including a state, necessary and reasonable expenses incurred by or on behalf of the party, including attorney’s fees unless the party from whom fees are sought establishes that the award is clearly inappropriate. In this case, the trial court erred in summarily denying the Grandparents’ request for attorney’s fees, because it did not consider whether assessing attorney’s fees against Mother would be “clearly inappropriate.” On remand, the trial court was directed to make specific findings as to the entitlement to attorney’s fees.
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.