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 1, 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:              Ketcher v. Ketcher
Court:            First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Linda F. McCallum.
Attorneys:     Brian P. North, Summer N. Boyd.
Issues:            Procedure.

Holding:      An alimony award must be supported by sufficient findings to demonstrate that the payee spouse has a need for the amount of alimony awarded and the payer spouse has the ability to pay that amount. A trial court has the authority to require a payor spouse to obtain and maintain a life insurance policy naming the payee spouse as the beneficiary in order to secure his or her obligation to pay a marital debt. The amount of the life insurance policy must be related to the extent of the obligation being secured.  In this case, the trial court erred regarding:

1. the adequacy of the alimony award because the final judgment contained insufficient findings to permit meaningful review of the award; and

2. the requirement that the Former Husband obtain life insurance to secure his obligation as part of the equitable distribution scheme because the amount of life insurance ordered exceeded the amount of his liability, without explanation. The appeals court reversed.


Case:              Minda v. Minda
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Walt D. Logan, Thomas Ramsberger.
Attorneys:     Jonathan Jonasz, Cristiana Esteves, Sarah M. Chaves.
Issues:            Alimony.

Holding:      A motion for relief from judgment should not be summarily dismissed without an evidentiary hearing unless the allegations and affidavits fail to allege colorable entitlement to relief. In this case, the trial court erred in dismissing the Former Wife's motion to vacate a default judgment as it was facially sufficient and alleged a colorable entitlement to relief. The appeals court reverse and remanded for a formal evidentiary hearing on the motion.


Case:              D.M.J. v. A.T.J.
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Martha J. Cook.
Attorneys:     
Issues:            Parenting, Child Support, Time-sharing.

Holding:        A time-sharing schedule may not be modified without a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances and a finding that the modification is in the best interests of the child. The petitioning party has the burden of proof.  Relocation is not a substantial change if the move is not a significant distance away from the child's current location. A child’s best interests must be considered by the court. A 45-mile move has been found to not constitute a substantial change warranting modification.  

 In this case, the trial court erred as it failed to consider the statutory best interests of the child in entering the orders on appeal. It did not find that a substantial change, regarding the Father’s relocation, occurred. Nor did it indicate that its findings and modification of the time-sharing plan were based upon the Father's move. The appeals court reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing to consider the statutory best interests of the child.


Case:              Dillion v. Dept. of Revenue (Child Support)
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:
Attorneys:      Pamela Jo Bondi, Toni C. Bernstein.
Issues:            Child Support.

Holding:      A noncustodial parent’s child support obligation is calculated based on the financial affidavits submitted by the parties along with any other information available to the Department. Where a child spends a substantial amount of time with the noncustodial parent under a timesharing arrangement, a reduction in that parent’s child support obligation is mandated. If an agency enters an order on undisputed evidence, the order must be upheld by this court if it is supported by competent, substantial evidence. In this case, the Department erred when it failed to conduct an evidentiary hearing because the financial affidavits submitted by the parties presented disputed facts which affected the calculation of the Father’s support obligation. The appeals court vacated and remanded.


Case:              Turk v. Turk
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Charles E. Burton.
Attorneys:     Craig A. Boudreau, Gary D. Weiner, Scott M. Weiss.
Issues:            Contempt, Time-sharing.

Holding:        A person cannot be held in contempt for failure to comply with something that a judicial order does not say. In this case, the trial court erred in granting the Mother’s motion for contempt alleging that the Father knowingly and intentionally withheld the children from her for one day in violation of a specific provision of their time-sharing agreement. The noted provision, however, on reasonable interpretation, did not require him to permit visitation on the date he allegedly violated the agreement. The appeals court reversed.


Case:              Mills v. Mills
Court:            Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Morgan Laur Reinman.
Attorneys:     Amy D. Shield, Roger Levine, Philip Fougerousse.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution.

Holding:      Liabilities incurred by forgery or unauthorized signature of the other spouse's name are nonmarital liabilities and are the sole burden of the spouse committing the fraud unless the liability was subsequently ratified by the other spouse. In this case, the trial court erred in concluding that the Former Husband made numerous investments on behalf of the parties which were profitable in the past despite his admission that he forged her signature on a loan (and there was no evidence to suggest she ratified the loan). The loan was a nonmarital liability of Former Husband. However, the loan was paid off using marital funds from his retirement accounts. Therefore, the trial court should have classified a portion of the loss as the nonmarital liability of Former Husband. 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 & Family Law Update for 3 Weeks Ending August 16, 2015

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.

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Case:              Stoltzfus v. Stoltzfus
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Marc B. Gilner.
Attorneys:     Troy H. Myers, Jr., Mark C. Dungan, Lori M. Dorman.
Issues:            Alimony.

Holding:         Moneys from retirement accounts which are distributed to the parties are considered income for the purpose of determining alimony where the principal of the retirement account will not be invaded for the purpose of support. It does not matter whether the party has attained the age at which funds may be withdrawn without penalty. Under Florida Statutes (2013), income includes retirement benefits, pensions, dividends, and interest. In this case, the trial court erred in not considering as income interest from pension accounts distributed to the Former Wife and interest-generating equalization payments from the Former Husband. The interest earned on the equalization payments fell within the statutory definition of income and should have been considered in calculating the Former Wife's income. The amended final judgment also contained a mathematical error in the calculation of the Former Wife's need. The appeals court reversed and remanded for a redetermination and recalculation.


Case:              Garcia v. Garcia
Court:            Third District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Barbara Areces.
Attorneys:     Douglas Isenberg.
Issues:            Child support.

Holding:         Florida Rules of Civil Procedure provide that a magistrate is responsible for creating an accurate and complete record of proceedings. A trial court may not adopt or ratify a magistrate’s report if he or she fails to file a complete record of the evidence with the report, regardless of whether exceptions have been filed to that report. If a trial court has not received a complete record, all subsequent actions based on such reports and recommendations may be deemed erroneous. In this case, the trial court erred when it ratified the general magistrate’s report despite having an incomplete record of the proceedings. A transcript from the hearing during which the testimony of the Former Husband and his accountant could not be prepared as the recording was inaudible. The testimony was absent from the record provided to the trial judge. The appeals court reversed and remanded with instructions to conduct further proceedings.
 


Case:              Hall v. Hall
Court:            Fouth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Timothy L. Bailey.
Attorneys:     Virginia R. Vetter, Susana Rice Roque, Linda M. Jaffe.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution, Marital Settlement Agreements.

Holding:         Two grounds lie for setting aside or modifying a Marriage Settlement Agreement (MSA):

1.     By establishing that it was reached under fraud, deceit, duress, coercion, misrepresentation, or overreaching.

2.     By establishing the MSA makes an unfair or unreasonable provision for a former spouse, given the circumstances of the parties as shown by evidence of the parties’ relative situations (including their respective ages, health, education, and financial status).  For this, determination, the trial court must find that the agreement is disproportionate to the means of the defending spouse, shown by record evidence of his or her financial means. If the MSA is found to be unreasonable, a presumption arises that either the defending spouse concealed relevant information or the challenging spouse lacked information regarding the defending spouse’s finances when the MSA was reached. The defending spouse can rebut by showing that there was full, frank disclosure or that the challenging spouse had a general and approximate knowledge of the marital property. The test is the challenging spouse’s such knowledge at the time of the MSA and whether he or she is prejudiced by lack of information.

Refusal to allow an amendment is an abuse of the trial court’s discretion unless it clearly appears that allowing the amendment would prejudice the opposing party, the privilege to amend has been abused, or amendment would be futile.

MSA Was Valid & Enforceable

Regarding the first ground, the Former Husband did not present evidence that the Former Wife or her attorney engaged in any fraud, duress, etc during the relevant proceedings. Rather, his position is that his attorney forgot to present an alleged first (missing) page of a draft version of the MSA to the Former Wife for her to consider.

As to the second ground, the Former Husband did not present evidence as to the parties’ relative situations to allow a trial court to make a decision as to its being unreasonable. The form of the MSA accepted by the trial court contained the style of the case, a clear heading, the parties’ initials, a signature page, and addressed the parties’ financial accounts by stating that they agreed to certain aspects of distribution. As such, and since he did not provide evidence of a purported additional page, the trial court did not err by ruling that the MSA filed by Former Wife was a valid, enforceable agreement.

Permission to Amend

The trial court erred when it denied the Former Husband’s motion to amend his answer on the grounds that it had been 18 months since the Former Wife filed her petition and the case was 30 days from trial. On the facts, it is not clear that allowing Former Husband leave to amend would have prejudiced Former Wife. Nor did he abuse the privilege to amend as this was his first such request. Finally, he sought to amend to raise and address relevant issues.

The appeals court reversed and remanded with instructions to allow Former Husband to file his amended answer.


Case:              Kemp v. Kemp
Court:            First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Daniel F. Wilensky.
Attorneys:     Seth Schwartz, Eric Lawson, Allison E. Folds.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution,  Attorney’s Fees.

Holding:         A trial court may not order an interim partial equitable distribution in the absence of a verified motion requesting same. In this case the trial court erred when, after a hearing on the Former Wife’s motion for temporary attorney’s fees (past due and prospective) issued an order finding that the Former Husband lacked the ability to pay her attorney’s fees and directed what was effectively an interim partial equitable distribution instead. The trial court lacked authority to do so as the relevant statutory requirements for such an order were not met. The trial court misapplied the law and failed to make proper findings to support its order. The appeals court reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the Former Wife’s motion for temporary attorney’s fees.


Case:              Freiha v. Freiha
Court:            First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Charles W. Arnold.
Attorneys:     William S. Graessle, Jonathan W. Graessle, Rebecca Bowen Creed.
Issues:            Procedure.

Holding:         An appeal on a non-final Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage is premature. Where judgment is partial; reserves jurisdiction to expend additional judicial labor over further matters, such as non-collateral issues of child support and parental responsibility; or retains jurisdiction over integrally related issues, an appeal may be premature and improper. In this case, the appellant pursued appeal on a Final Order of Judgment that did not finally resolve integral matters. The appeal was dismissed without prejudice to the appellant to file a notice of appeal upon the rendition of a final order.


Case:              J.C. v. D.C.F.
Court:            Third District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Rosa C. Figarola.
Attorneys:     Richard F. Joyce, Karla F. Perkins, Laura E. Lawson (Sanford).
Issues:            Termination, Case Plan.

Holding:         An order for termination must sufficiently articulates the trial court’s considerations and findings. However, if record evidence and the detailed considerations of the trial court support a finding of termination, the wording of the order in that regard may be viewed as harmless error. In this case, the trial court erred in rendering an order that was did not sufficiently articulate that the Mother: (i) materially breached her case plan, and (ii) would be unlikely or unable to comply substantially with the case plan prior to its expiration. However, the appeals court determined this was harmless error as record evidence, together with the trial court’s detailed consideration of the Mother’s conduct, supported such an order for termination. The appeals court affirmed.


Case:              Lopez v. Lopez
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Arthur M. Birken, Merrilee Ehrlich.
Attorneys:     Venol C. Adams, Susan R. Brown.
Issues:            Custody, Time-sharing.

Holding:         Orders determining the rights or obligations of a party regarding child custody or time-sharing under a parenting plan can be non-final orders. A timely motion for rehearing will suspend the rendition of a final order until the order disposing of the motion for rehearing is entered. However, a motion for rehearing does not suspend the rendition of a non-final order. Notice must be timely. In this case, the appellant (Father) appealed an order for custody, visitation and proposing a time-sharing schedule, which was conditioned on the successful outcome of reunification therapy. This was a non-final order. His notice of appeal was not filed within the procedural timelines (in this case, within thirty days) after the non-final order was rendered. The appeals court was required to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.


Case:              Whissell v. Whissell
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Jeffrey Dana Gillen.
Attorneys:     Karen J. Haas, Jonathan S. Root.
Issues:            Contempt, Procedure.

Holding:         Where an appellant has disobeyed an order of the trial court, the appellate court may, in its discretion, either entertain or dismiss an appeal. However, where a dismissal is ordered it is mandatory that the non-compliant appellant must be given a period of grace, prior to the effective date of the dismissal, in which to comply with the order(s) at issue.

In this case, the appellant repeatedly refused to comply with the trial court’s orders regarding temporary support and discovery, resulting in four findings of contempt and three writs of bodily attachment. The appellant (Former Husband) was incarcerated for such conduct and was released only after he made some payment on arrearages and promised the trial court future compliance, which he ultimately breached. The appeals court ordered the appeal be dismissed unless he established substantial compliance with the extant orders within 30 days of the appeal court decision. Jurisdiction was relinquished to the trial court for 30 days to determine the appellant’s compliance and provide a status report.


Case:              Chianese v. Brady
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Timothy Bailey.
Attorneys:     Nancy A. Hass, Cynthia L. Greene.
Issues:            Attorney’s Fees.

Holding:          The award of attorney’s fees is premised on the parties’ respective need and ability to pay. Notwithstanding, the trial court must also determine the reasonableness of the fees before ordering a party to pay fees. In this case, the trial court did not err in denying the Mother further attorney’s fees. The trial court determined that the case was “out of control”, the Mother had failed to prove the reasonableness of the fees requested, and the Father has already paid her temporary attorney’s fees. Specifically, it had previously awarded the Mother $30,000.00 for temporary fees, then denied a subsequent request for more, which denial was affirmed on appeal. She then filed an additional (third) motion for temporary attorney’s fees on the grounds that further substantial financial discovery was required as the Father was objecting and new and novel theories to obtain an increase in child support were being advanced. The appeals court affirmed the denial of additional fees.


Case:              Hutchinson v. Hutchinson
Court:            First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Monica J. Brasington.
Attorneys:     Stephen K. Johnson, Emily A. Snider, Jonathan P. Culver.
Issues:            Alimony, Attorney’s Fees.

Holding:         An award of attorney’s fees is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Under Florida Statute, such awards are to ensure that both parties have a similar ability to obtain competent legal counsel. The general consideration is the requesting spouse’s financial need and the other spouse’s ability to pay. Where the parties are equally able to pay attorney’s fees, the trial court abuses its discretion by requiring one spouse to pay the other’s fees. Where marital property has been equitably distributed and alimony is awarded such that the parties’ incomes have been equalized, a trial court abuses its discretion by awarding attorney’s fees. In this case, the trial court erred in that it awarded the Former Wife attorney’s fees after it had rendered final judgment by which equitable distribution and alimony left the parties in substantially the same financial position. The appeal court reversed the award of attorney’s fees and costs.


Case:              Earl v. Earl
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Thomas H. Barkdull, III.
Attorneys:     Jane Kreusler-Walsh, Stephanie L. Serafin, Troy William Klein.
Issues:            Alimony, Procedure.

Holding:         The written findings of a trial court must conform with the oral pronouncement.  In this case, the trial court erred in failing to provide that the Former Husband obtain and maintain life insurance in the (written) final judgment of dissolution despite having made such a determination in the oral pronouncement. The appeals court reversed and remanded to allow the trial court to include the Former Husband’s requirement to maintain life insurance.


Case:              Somasca v. Somasca
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   John S. Carlin.
Attorneys:    J P. Brandon Perkins, Kristen D. Perkins, Brett C. Powell, Alexander Brockmeyer, Katheryn E. Smith.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution.

Holding:         When marital assets are used during the marriage to reduce the mortgage on non-marital property, the increase in equity on the property is a marital asset subject to equitable distribution. The increase in equity is not to be confused with the concept of the appreciation in the overall value of the asset. The enhancement in equity is captured under Florida Statute, which holds that marital assets and liabilities include, among other things, the enhancement in value and appreciation of non-marital assets resulting either from the efforts of either party during the marriage or from the  contribution to or expenditure thereon of marital funds or other forms of marital assets, or both. 

In this case, the trial court erred in its treatment of the reduction in the mortgage indebtedness on a building the Former Husband purchased prior to the marriage, which had depreciated in value (a non-marital asset). The parties used marital funds to reduce the mortgage on the building, which resulted in the Former Husband obtaining enhanced equity in the building despite the building depreciating in value during the parties’ marriage. The trial court erred in failing to give the Former Wife a credit for the use of marital funds to pay down the mortgage. The appeals court reversed the equitable distribution and remanded for correction. 


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 & Family Law Update for Week Ending July 19, 2015

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:              Fosshage v. Fosshage
Court:            Third District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Tegan Slaton.
Attorneys:     Samuel J. Kaufman, Lawrence E. Harkenrider, Jiulio Margalli.
Issues:            Time-sharing, Modification (Permanent Residence). 

Holding:      Under Florida Statutes (2013), there is a clear distinction between modification based on changed circumstances and modification based on relocation. A determination of parental responsibility, a parenting plan, or a time-sharing schedule may not be modified without a showing of a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances and a determination that the modification is in the best interests of the child. In determining whether a change in circumstances has occurred, a trial court must consider a statutorily enumerated list of factors. A petition for relocation, on the other hand, requires a different procedure with specific statutory requirements governing the content of the petition, service on the other parent, burdens of proof, and factors to be considered by the court.

 In this case, the trial court erred in treating what was a petition for relocation as a change in circumstances and therefore did not adhere to or consider the correct process and factors. The appeals court reversed and remanded for the proper proceedings.
 


Case:              Dravis v. Dravis
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Keith Spoto.
Attorneys:     Jean Marie Henne, Shelley Harrell Shelton.
Issues:            Marital Assets, Equitable Distribution. 

Holding:         Cash Gifts 
An appeals court will review de novo a trial court's characterization of an asset as marital or nonmarital, and any factual findings necessary to make this legal conclusion, for competent, substantial evidence. Nonmarital assets may lose their nonmarital character where they have been commingled with marital assets. This is especially true with respect to money because money is fungible, and once commingled, loses its separate character. It is irrelevant that a bank account is titled in the name of one Former Spouse, alone, as it may become marital if both marital and nonmarital funds are commingled in that account. It is not necessary for commingled funds to be used to pay marital expenses in order to be treated as entirely marital; it is enough that the funds be commingled.

Dissipated Proceeds

The appeals court reviews a trial court's equitable distribution decisions for abuse of discretion and examines its valuation of marital assets to determine whether it is supported by competent, substantial evidence. Generally, it is error to include in an equitable distribution scheme any assets that have been diminished or dissipated during the dissolution proceedings. The exception, however, is where misconduct during the divorce case results in the dissipation of a marital asset. To determine whether such misconduct occurred, the trial court must assess whether one spouse used marital funds for a purpose unrelated to the marriage at a time when the marriage was undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown. Further, such misconduct must be supported by the record evidence, and by specific factual findings of the trial court.

In this case, the trial court did not err in its determination as to misconduct and characterization of marital assets. The trial court did, however, err regarding the equitable distribution of the parties' marital assets. Competent, substantial evidence demonstrated that certain nonmarital assets (being the proceeds of monetary gifts to the Former Wife) were commingled with proceeds that were marital assets. The monetary gifts therefore lost their nonmarital character and became marital assets subject to equitable distribution. However, the trial court failed to make specific factual findings on the matter. This necessitated the reversal of the judgment on that issue. The appeals court affirmed as to the cash gifts and alimony, but reversed and remanded for further proceedings on equitable distribution.


Case:              Dickson v. Dickson
Court:            Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Mark J. Hill.
Attorneys:     Nicholas A. Shannin, Lauren M. Ilvento, Barry P. Burnette, Matthew B. Capstraw
Issues:            Timesharing. 

Holding:        A trial court's order modifying a parenting plan and timesharing schedule is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. The trial court has less authority and discretion to modify timesharing than it does to make the initial timesharing determination. Under Florida Statutes (2013), relocation is a change in the location of the principal residence of a parent or other person from his or her principal place of residence at the time of the last order establishing or modifying time-sharing. Further, the change of location must be at least 50 miles from that residence. In the absence of a statutory or contractual provision to the contrary, the proper method to measure the distance between two points is the straight-line or “as the crow flies” measure. Under the principle of shared parental responsibility, major decisions affecting the welfare of a child are to be made after the parents confer and reach an agreement. If the parents reach an impasse, the dispute should be presented to the court for resolution whereby the court must resolve the impasse by determining the best interests of the child.

In this case, the trial court abused its discretion by modifying the timesharing agreement without evidence that the welfare of the minor child would be promoted by a return to the school the minor child had previously attended and modifying the timesharing arrangement so that the Father assumed the primary timesharing responsibilities. The Mother’s move did not violate the marital settlement agreement or the relocation statute. While the timesharing schedule largely met the statutory requirements, it did not include a school designation, and the marital settlement agreement did not expressly prohibit a move. Further, the parties agreed that the Mother moved forty-nine miles “as the crow flies,” using the straight-line test and was not required to file a petition to relocate. However, the dissolution final judgment gave the parties shared parental responsibility on major decisions, including educational matters. Because the parties were unable to agree on the minor child’s school, the Mother was required to obtain court approval before unilaterally changing the schools the minor child attended. The appeals court reversed and remanded with directions.


Case:              Rossi v. Rossi
Court:            Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Kelly J. McKibben.
Attorneys:     Joe Teague Caruso.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution. 

Holding:         A trial court's determination that a motion or other filing is improper, as labelled, is a question of law and is reviewed de novo. Where it is apparent that an improperly-labelled motion is intended to operate as an authorized motion, an appellate court must consider the motion as if it were properly labelled. Where a party files a motion that would be unauthorized based on the motion's title, Florida courts will consider the motion's substance in determining whether the motion was authorized. The mislabelling of a motion will not preclude consideration. In this case, the trial court erred as it failed to consider the content of an improperly-labelled motion for rehearing and treated the motion as a list of exceptions. Specifically, the trial court found no issue with the substantive content of the Former Wife's list of exceptions. That finding necessarily implied that the substantive content of the motion for rehearing—which was identical to the list of exceptions was also sufficient. The trial court should have treated Former Wife's unauthorized motion for rehearing as an authorized list of exceptions and should have held a hearing on the magistrate's report. The appeals court reversed the trial court's entry of final judgment and remanded for a hearing on the Former Wife's list of exceptions to the magistrate's report.


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 & Family Law Update for Week Ending April 12, 2015

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.
Issues:            Adoption. 

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. 

Holding:          Jurisdiction

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.

Modification

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.

Make-Up Visitation   


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.

Attorney’s Fees

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.