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.

Florida Divorce and Family Law Update for Week Ending May 15, 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:             Bellant v. Bellant
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Edward Nicholas.
Attorneys:     Susan J. Silverman, Melton H. Little, Peter J. Mackey, Drew F. Chesanek.
Issues:            Attorney’s Fees.

Holding:       In this case the trial court erred in awarding attorney’s fees to the Former Husband based, in part, on its finding of bad faith conduct by the Former Wife and her legal counsel absent it explaining what constituted said bad faith. The appeals court remanded with directions.


Case:             B.B.S. et al v. Rodriguez-Murguia
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Barbara W. Bronis.
Attorneys:      Charles E. Jarrell.
Issues:            Maternity.

Holding:      Florida Statutes (2014), provide that circuit and county courts have jurisdiction to declare rights, status, and other equitable or legal relations. No action or procedure is open to objection on the ground that a declaratory judgment is demanded. The United States Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court have recognized the fundamental rights of parents. In this case, the trial court erred in dismissing the Children’s cause of action to determine maternity when it should have allowed them to do so by way of a declaratory action under Florida Statutes. The Mother signed their birth certificates using a false name because she was not in the country legally. When she tried to amend the birth certificates to correctly identify herself as their mother, each state where the Children were born would not authorize the change without a court order. The Children brought the action to establish maternity in conjunction with a request for child support and a parenting plan. The trial court was required to adjudicate to determination of existing rights or duties.  The appeals court reversed and remanded.


Case:             Steinman v. Steinman
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Howard K. Coates, Jr..
Attorneys:     Amy D. Shield, Roger Levine, Charles D. Jamieson.
Issues:           Contempt.

Holding:     A trial court cannot preclude the custodial parent of one religious faith from actively influencing the training of the child inconsistently with the different religious faith of the other parent. Nor can it require the custodial parent to raise the child in the other parent’s faith and cooperate with the other parent in effecting the result. In this case, the trial court erred in holding the Mother  in contempt for unilaterally changing the religious care of the children when, in fact, the Father’s principal concern was with afterschool care and the Father led no evidence that the children were harmed by exposure to the Mother’s religious beliefs or practices. The appeals court reversed.


Case:             D.H. v. T.N.L. and Guardian ad litem
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Gary L. Sweet.
Attorneys:      Lori D. Shelby, Linda L. Weiksnar.
Issues:            Contempt.

Holding:       In order to find an individual in contempt, the trial court must find that the contemnor had the ability to comply with the previous court order. Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure codifies this and sets out detailed procedures that must be followed before a person can be found in civil contempt. An order finding a person in contempt must contain specific findings, including a finding that the alleged contemnor had the ability to comply with a prior court order and willfully failed to do so. In this case, the trial court erred in finding the Father in contempt without finding that he had the present ability to pay the amounts ordered. While this issue was not preserved, the court departed from the essential requirements of law and committed fundamental error. The appeals court reversed and remanded.


Case:             Moore v. Yahr
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Timothy L. Bailey.
Attorneys:      Gerald W. Adams, Catherine L. Roselli.
Issues:            Paternity.

Holding:      When restricting or preventing timesharing, a trial court must set forth any specific requirements or standards to remove or alleviate the restrictions. Failure to do so is error. The court must give the parent the key to reconnecting with his or her children. The costs of supervision should be considered as part of the child support calculations. In this case, the trial court erred as it failed to set forth specific steps by which the Father could establish unsupervised timesharing and improperly ordered him responsible for the costs of supervision. The appeals court reversed.


Case:              Songur v. Songur
Court:            Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Mike Murphy.
Attorneys:     Christie L. Mitchell.
Issues:            Parenting, Time-sharing, Contempt.

Holding:       A trial court must make specific findings as to educational decisions and parents’ ultimate responsibilities. Imputations of income must be made on evidence and explanation for related findings. In this case, the trial court erroneously granted ultimate decision-making authority over a child’s education to the Former Husband absent a finding that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child or that ultimate responsibility over the child’s education was in the child’s best interest. The trial court also erred in imputing income to both parents without any evidentiary basis and without explanation for these findings. 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.