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 & Family Law Update for Week Ending May 24, 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:              Williams v. Williams
Court:             First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Kelvin C. Wells.
Attorneys:      Jerome M. Novey, Shannon L. Novey, Christin F. Gonzalez, John F. Greene.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution. 

Holding:         A trial court’s fair market value determination of marital assets must be supported by competent, substantial evidence. Equalization payments and asset distribution must be supported by competent, substantial evidence and trial court must provide sufficient findings and documentation to allow the appellate court meaningful review. In this case, the trial court erred as it did not base its equitable distribution of marital assets and an equalization payment to the Former Wife on competent and substantial evidence. The error was such that the appeals court could not conduct meaningful review of the judgment at issue. The appeals court reversed and remanded those parts of the judgment which were erroneous. 


Case:              Bronstein v. Bronstein
Court:             Third District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Scott M. Bernstein.
Attorneys:      Liliana Loebl, Daniel Kaplan, Daniels Kashtan, Lorne E. Berkeley.
Issues:            Parenting, Procedure. 

Holding:        To obtain a writ of certiorari, there must exist: (1) a departure from the essential requirements of the law; (2) resulting in material injury; (3) that cannot be corrected on postjudgment appeal. Further, a motion for modification of timesharing must be given notice of the hearing, and present the relief being sought. Specifically, it should be based, and established, on competent and substantial evidence, a material change in circumstances. Such a motion must also involve the taking of evidence and any order that arises should include factual findings.  If an order grants relief of an emergency nature, there should be evidence of a true emergency (ie: that the minor child involved is at risk of harm or will be removed from the jurisdiction.)

In this case, the trial court erred in ordering a modification of the parties’ parenting plan on application by the Former Husband insofar as although the Former Wife was given notice of (and attended) the hearing in this matter, the Former Husband’s motion did not seek a modification of the timesharing arrangement, and Former Wife was not on notice that such relief was within the scope of the motion or the hearing. Further, the motion was unverified; the motion did not seek emergency relief; and the trial court did not take any testimony or rely upon any sworn evidence. There was nothing provided by Former Husband to establish a true emergency or to suggest that Child was being threatened with physical harm or about to be improperly removed from the State of Florida.  There was nothing presented even to establish the existence of a substantial change of circumstances such that Child’s temporary relocation to Colorado pending the evidentiary hearing was warranted and in Child’s best interest. The court’s Order, which contained no factual findings, was based solely on argument from counsel and the unverified allegations in the Former Husband’s Motion. In rendering its emergency Order upon this basis, and scheduling the evidentiary hearing some four months later, the court departed from the essential requirements of the law, causing irreparable harm that cannot be remedied on post-judgment appeal.  

The appeals court granted the Former Wife’s petition, issued the writ of certiorari, and quashed the impugned order below, with instructions that minor child be returned to Former Wife’s care and remanded for further proceedings. 


Case:              Edgar v. Firuta
Court:             Third District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Luis M. Garcia.
Issues:            Parenting, Attorney’s Fees. 
 

Holding:         Florida procedural Rules authorize a court to permit testimony at a civil hearing or trial by audio or video communication equipment by agreement of the parties or for good cause shown on written request of a party and reasonable notice to all other parties. In this case, the trial court erred in denying the Mother’s petition to telephonically appear at the hearing addressing timesharing and related matters, because the Father objected. The Mother, who was unemployed and had not received child support for the parties’ four children from the Father, lived in North Carolina, had made her petition to appear via technological communications, some 2 months after the procedural rules were amended to so allow such appearance. The court below was not, therefore, barred from considering the mother’s request to testify by telephone simply because the father objected but could have allowed the testimony for good cause shown. The appeals court reversed. 


Case:              Badgley v. Sanchez
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Steven B. Feren.
Attorneys:      J. Scott Gunn, Sue-Ellen Kenny, Scott D. Glassman.
Issues:            Equitable Distribution, Alimony. 

Holding:         Equitable Distribution
Florida Statutes (2013), governing distribution of marital assets and liabilities, provides that the trial court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal and requires consideration and factual findings in the judgment regarding nine specified factors in assessing whether an unequal distribution is warranted.  In this case, trial court erred in awarding a 60/40 distribution which was premised solely on the parties’ income and which failed to contain the factual findings required by statute.

Alimony

Florida Statutes (2013), authorizes the award of alimony, based on consideration of a variety of factors that the court shall consider in determining the amount and type. A trial court errs where it fails to make the findings required by statute. In this case, the trial court erred as the final judgment regarding alimony failed to reference the statutory provision and the relevant factors, despite the fact that some of the findings could be fairly read to correlate with the relevant factors. The appeals court reversed on both above issues. 


Case:              B.K. v. D.C.F.
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Hope Bristol.
Attorneys:      Lori D. Shelby, Pamela Jo Bondi, Carolyn Schwarz.
Issues:            Termination. 

Holding:      Florida statute provides incarceration as a ground for termination. Specifically, under statute, termination may be ordered when the parent of a child is incarcerated and the period of time for which the parent is expected to be incarcerated will constitute a significant portion of the child’s minority. When determining whether the period of time is significant, the court shall consider the child’s age and the child’s need for a permanent and stable home. The period of time begins on the date that the parent enters into incarceration. In addition, the trial court must find that termination is in the manifest best interests of the child. In making this determination, Florida statute sets forth a list of non-exclusive relevant factors, including, but not limited to:  (1) any suitable permanent custody arrangement with a relative;  (2) the ability the parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care;  (3) the capacity of the parent or parents to care for the child to the extent that the child’s safety, well-being, and physical, mental, and emotional health will not be endangered upon the child’s return home; and others. Finally, the Department must show, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination is the least restrictive means to prevent serious harm to the child. In this case, the trial court did not err as it considered the relevant factors and made the required factual findings. In so doing, the court found termination of parental rights was the least restrictive means of protecting the minor child from harm because the child had not seen the Father since tiny infancy and did not know him. The appeals court affirmed but remanded to the trial court to consider access between the Father and the minor child.


About DivorceCourtAppeals.com and Nugent Zborowski & Bruce

Matthew S. Nugent, Adam M. Zborowski & Christopher R. Bruce limit their practice to resolution of marital and family law 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 Three Weeks Ending May 10, 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:              Santos v. Santos
Court:             Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Amy Smith.
Attorneys:     Christine Greider, Justin C. Carlin, James W. Chandler.
Issues:            Parenting, Child Support. 

Holding:  The use of outdated financial information in calculating a child support award can constitute reversible error. In this case, the trial court erred in its modification of the child support plan in the final judgment when it used outdated financial information from both the Former Wife and the Former Husband in calculating the amount of child support. The appeals court reversed the final judgment with respect to the child support modification and remanded for the trial court to reconsider the support award in light of the parties' updated financial information. 


Case:              Robertson v. Robertson
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Merrilee Ehrlich.
Attorneys:     John T. David, Rhoda Sokoloff.
Issues:            Injunction for Protection. 

Holding:  Florida Statutes (2013), criminalizes a person who wilfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person. To harass, is to engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose. This “course of conduct” includes “a series of acts over a period of time, however short, which evidences a continuity of purpose.” In this case, the trial court did not err in entering the injunction insofar as surveillance-based evidence showed three incidents, which were further verified by Appellant’s e-mail to Appellee admitting to being at her residence, established a course of conduct sufficient to support the trial court’s entry of the injunction against Appellant. 


Case:              Plummer v. Forget
Court:             Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:    Dan Traver.
Attorneys:      Patrick Michael Megaro, Jennifer M. Manyen.
Issues:            Injunction for Protection. 

Holding:  A person commits the act of stalking by wilfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following, harassing, or cyberstalking another person. To harass another person means to engage in a course of conduct directed at that specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to him or her and serves no legitimate purpose.  A course of conduct is a series of actions, over a period of time, which evidences a continuity of purpose. Each incident of stalking must be proven by competent, substantial evidence.  When evaluating whether competent, substantial evidence supports a trial court's ruling, legal sufficiency, as opposed to evidentiary weight, is the appropriate concern of an appellate tribunal. In determining whether each incident of harassment causing substantial emotional distress has been established to support a finding of stalking, courts use a reasonable person standard, not a subjective standard. In this case the trial court erred in entering the injunction for protection as the evidence was legally insufficient to support doing so. The appeals court reversed. 


Case:              Beckstrom v. Beckstrom
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Amy Smith.
Attorneys:      Betty C. Resch, Sean P. Sheppard.
Issues:            Alimony, Attorney’s Fees. 
Holding:  Attorney’s Fees

Despite the lack of a transcript and an adequate record, when the error appears on the face of the judgment, it should be corrected. A trial court may order a party to pay a reasonable amount for attorney’s fees. The trial court is required to consider the financial resources of both parties and make findings regarding their respective financial needs and abilities to pay. Failure to do so requires reversal. The trial court also has discretion to allow payment of an award of attorney’s fees over time, but it must set out a factual basis for imposing the specific payment plan selected.  In this case, the trial court found the Former Wife was in need of attorney’s fees, but did not make a finding as to the Former Husband’s ability to pay and did not set forth any factual basis for imposing this specific payment plan. The appeals court reversed the judgment on this issue and remanded the case to the trial court to make the requisite written findings.

Life Insurance Policy

Under the invited error rule, a party cannot successfully complain about an error for which he or she is responsible or of rulings that he or she invited the court to make. In this case, the trial court did not err in ordering the Former Husband to purchase a life insurance policy and include such a provision in his proposed final judgment when the Former Husband so agreed earlier in the proceedings. The appeals court affirmed on this point. 


Case:              Gilroy v. Gilroy
Court:             Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Amy M. Williams.
Attorneys:     Jane H. Grossman, Peter N. Meros.
Issues:            Time-sharing, Child Support. 

Holding:  Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure require the filing of a financial affidavit in supplemental dissolution proceedings, with service within 45 days of service of the initial pleading on the respondent. The Rules provide a continuing duty to supplement financial affidavits upon a material change in financial circumstances. The requirement to provide a financial affidavit in supplemental proceedings is mandatory and cannot be waived by the parties. As well, a request for a continuance must be entertained, in order to properly present evidence regarding the relevant issues. In this case, the trial court erred in denying the Former Husband's request for a continuance when the Former Wife did not serve and file her financial evidence in compliance with the Rules and giving the Former Husband sufficient time to properly review it and prepare.  The appeals court reversed and ordered a new hearing on the issue of child support and directed that discovery be conducted prior to the final hearing on remand.


Case:              C.D. v. D.C.F.
Court:             First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   David M. Gooding.
Attorneys:     Jeffrey E. Lewis, Crystal McBee Frusciante, Kelley Schaeffer, Ward L. Metzger.
Issues:            Termination. 

Holding:  In termination of parental rights cases, the standard of review is highly deferential. The trial court's findings must be supported by competent substantial evidence. In order for parental rights to be permanently and involuntarily severed, the state must show by clear and convincing evidence that reunification with the parent poses a substantial risk of significant harm to the child. As parental rights constitute a fundamental liberty interest, the state must establish in each case that termination of those rights is the least restrictive means of protecting the child from serious harm. Florida statutes provide that the availability of a placement with a relative may not be considered as a ground to deny the termination of parental rights. However, in this case the applicable test was whether termination was the least restrictive means of protecting a child from serious harm. In this case, the trial court erred as it found the least restrictive means of achieving permanency and held that termination was the least restrictive means of protecting the children from harm. The appeals court reversed. 


Case:              Sisca v. Sisca
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Thomas H. Barkdull, III.
Attorneys:      Roger Levine, Amy D. Shield, Jonathan M. Streisfeld, Michael B. Gilden.
Issues:            Alimony, Attorney’s Fees. 

Holding:        Under Florida statute, awards of attorney’s fees must be based on evidence that demonstrates the requisite need and ability to pay. An obligor should not be made to invade certain assets and investments if there is evidence the obligee has their own assets upon which he or she could rely. In this case, the trial court erred in ordering the Former Wife to pay the Former Husband’s attorney’s fees despite evidence showing her net income was lower than his. Rather, the trial court based its decision on financial evidence showing her investments, liquid assets, were worth more than his. However, based on their respective net monthly incomes, to pay his fees, the Former Wife would have to invade the liquid assets, while his financial evidence showed he had investments and other assets on which he could rely. Under these circumstances, it was an abuse of the trial court’s discretion to require the Former wife to pay the Former Husband’s fees. The appeals court reversed the fee awards. 


Case:              D.S. v. D.C.F.
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Hope Bristol.
Attorneys:   Antony P. Ryan, Paulina Forrest, Pamela Jo Bondi, Carolyn Schwarz, Patricia Murphy Propheter.
Issues:            Termination. 

Holding:  Termination of parental rights by the state requires clear and convincing evidence establishing one of the enumerated statutory grounds including risk to the child; that termination is in the manifest best interest of the child; and that termination is the least restrictive means of protecting the child from harm. Grounds for establishing termination can include the incarceration of a parent and whether the period of time for which the parent will be incarcerated will constitute a significant portion of the child’s minority. In determining whether the period of time is significant, the court shall consider the child’s age and the child’s need for a permanent and stable home. The period of time begins on the date that the parent enters into incarceration. The court must look both at the length of the incarceration as well as its effect on the child’s need for permanency.  The state must prove that termination is in the best interest of the child and the least restrictive means of protecting him or her from harm. In this case the trial court was correct in terminating for the minor child who had been in foster care, the foster parents anticipated adopting him and he did not wish to see his father. The state proved same by clear and convincing evidence. That child’s need for permanency (being adopted) was paramount, supported by competent substantial evidence, in the manifest best interest of the child and was the least restrictive means to prevent harm to him.

As for the children living with a relative, the trial court erred in terminating as the state did not establish grounds for same. The children were living with a relative, and the Father maintained as close a relationship as his incarceration has allowed and the finding that his incarceration amounted to a significant portion of the children’s minorities was not supported by substantial and competent evidence. Nor was it shown that termination was in the children’s best interest nor the least restrictive means to prevent harm to the children. The appeals court affirmed the termination regarding the one child parental but we reversed the termination as to the other children.


Case:              Brandon-Thomas v. Brandon-Thomas
Court:             Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   John E. Duryea, Jr..
Attorneys:     Luis E. Insignares, Brian J. Kruger, Michael E. Chionopoulos, Pamela Jo Bondi, Allen Winsor, Adam S. Tanenbaum.
Issues:             Same-Sex Marriage. 
Holding:  The trial court was reversed for dismissing a same-sex divorce case based on lack of jurisdiction.  The appellate court remanded to the trial court to consider the merits of the divorce petition.

Like those federal court decisions recognizing same-sex marriages, a same-sex divorce must be analysed principally for compliance with the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the federal constitution to the extent that the trial court's order denied relief to the appellant. The application of the constitutional principles of equal protection and due process apply to the dissolution of same-sex marriages. The issues at hand require key focus. The primary issues at hand involve the rights of a same-sex couple, validly married in another state and now living in Florida, to seek a dissolution of marriage in Florida. A heterosexual couple under similar circumstance could easily invoke a Florida trial court's jurisdiction. More precisely defining the issue and the right enables easier application of the constitutional principles of equal protection and due process.

In this case, the court is petitioned to assist in returning the parties to single status – to adjust the parties' financial and property relationships and provide some judicial direction concerning child custody. The parties are not asking a Florida court to form a marital union, they seek disengagement from a broken relationship. Upon dissolution of marriage, the parties will each be single. Apart from the mandates of any final judgment, any state or federal obligations or benefits attendant to marriage presumably will cease.  A well-settled general framework is utilized for the constitutional analysis. The substantive component of the Due Process Clause checks state authority to enact untenable measures, even if enacted with appropriate procedural safeguards. Substantive due process protects fundamental rights. As the Florida Constitution and legislation classify same-sex couples differently than heterosexual couples for purposes of dissolution of marriage, the proper definition of the right sought plays a leading role. In this case, the state failed to identify and argue the proper right. Rather, it pursued analysis and argument related to Florida’s ban of same-sex marriage and regarding Florida laws, under which, sexual orientation is not a protected class entitled to strict-scrutiny analysis.  As the state bears the burden of presenting only a rational basis for its legislation, on the arguments presented, it fell short and tied the analysis to the need to promote procreation and have children raised in a particular family situation. The state made this a same-sex issue when it is not. Once the real issues are defined that becomes apparent. However, even if Florida's purported interest in procreation and having children raised in a heterosexual household were rational reasons to ban same-sex marriage, the state did not establish why or how prohibiting a validly married same-sex couple from seeking a divorce in Florida advances either of these interests. The state has not articulated how prohibiting a trial court from dissolving a same-sex marriage, validly entered into in another state, will promote a rise in procreation. Nor does the state explain how denying a couple a divorce will optimize what it sees as an ideal environment for raising children. Indeed, in the context of a marriage dissolution, the trial court will be in an ideal situation to protect the best interest of the child parented by this couple. The appeals court did not discount the state's reason for enacting its laws and noted that a court should defer to the state when it has provided a basis for its statutory and constitutional classifications. However, such deference presupposes that the state has a rational basis for its position, which in this case, was not established.   


Case:              Gilliard v. Gilliard
Court:             Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Linda Schoonover.
Attorneys:      David L. Robold, Shannon L. Akins, Nicholas A. Shannin, Patrick John McGinley.
Issues:            Alimony, Equitable Distribution, Attorney’s Fees. 
Holding:  Alimony
In order to award alimony, a court must make a specific factual determination as to whether either party has an actual need for alimony or maintenance and whether either party has the ability to pay alimony or maintenance. The burden to show his or her financial need and the spouse’s ability to pay is on the party requesting alimony. A marriage having a duration of greater than 7 years but less than 17 years is considered a moderate-term marriage and there is no presumption for or against permanent alimony. Permanent alimony may be awarded following a moderate-term marriage if such an award is appropriate based upon clear and convincing evidence after consideration of the factors set out by statute. The purpose of permanent alimony is to provide the needs and the necessities of life to a former spouse as they have been established by the marriage of the parties.          The ability to pay alimony should be based on the party’s net, not gross, income.


In this case, the trial court erred in awarding alimony based on the Former Husband’s gross income. The trial court also erred in considering Former Husband’s future retirement benefits as both current income and a marital asset, included in its distribution of the parties’ marital assets when the future retirement benefits should be considered in the division of marital assets.  The trial court erred further when it failed to make specific written findings regarding the standard of living established during the marriage, the contributions of each party to the marriage, or the tax treatment and consequences of awarding alimony.

Equitable Distribution

Under Florida statute, in distributing marital assets and liabilities between the parties, the court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal. Although a trial court may distribute marital assets and liabilities unequally, it is required to justify such an award based on all relevant factors under statute. A court should make enumerated findings related to each factor under statute. While parties may agree to a specific distribution of some of their assets and liabilities in a mediated or other settlement agreement, the court should placed values on the various items of personal property because each division and distribution of a marital asset and liability is interrelated to form an overall scheme fair to both parties.


The trial court erred in awarding an asset to the Former Wife firstly in the equitable distribution scheme and then a second time in the attorney’s fees. The trial court erred in failing to place a value on the parties’ automobiles, furniture, and furnishings distributed pursuant to the partial mediation agreement and erred when it ordered the Former Husband to make mortgage payments if he failed to make his alimony payments. Proper recourse there would have been to impose sanctions for wilfully failing to comply with a court order. The trial court also erred in failing to consider the consolidation loan as a marital liability.

A
ttorney’s Fees

An award of attorney’s fees must be based on clear and cogent evidence of the parties’ respective need and ability to pay. Such findings must be housed in specific factual findings which also include those regarding the attorney’s work (ie: reasonable number of hours spent and the reasonable hourly rate.)  In this case, the trial court did not err in that regard, but did improperly include an asset that was already distributed when it conducted the ability to pay analysis.

The appeals court reversed the entire distribution plan and remanded for reconsideration. 


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.

Florida Divorce & Family Law Update for Week Ending March 8, 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:               Guevara v. Guevara et al
Court:             Third District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:    Maria E. Dennis.
Attorneys:      Jay M. Levy, Ira B. Price, Mark E. Pollack.
Issues:             Procedure, Final Order. 

Holding:         Leave of court to amend a pleading shall be given freely when justice so requires. In this case, trial court erred when it abused its discretion in dismissing the Former Wife’s petition to set aside a Final Judgment (approving and ratifying the parties’ Marital Settlement Agreement, “MSA”) with prejudice to her claim that she did not receive moneys in exchange for her interest in the sale of certain real estate, as was provided for in the MSA. The appeals court reversed that portion of the trial court order and, on remand, the Former Wife was permitted to amend the portion of her claim as to the moneys to which she is entitled under the MSA. 


Case:               Castelli v. Castelli
Court:              Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:    Laura M. Watson.
Attorneys:      John H. Pelzer, Robert J. Moraitis, Peter M. Raimondi
Issues:             Contempt, Matrimonial Property. 

Holding:        A right of first refusal is a right to elect to take specified property at the same price and on the same terms and conditions as those contained in a good faith offer by a third person if the owner manifests a willingness to accept the offer. When the holder of a right of first refusal attempts to exercise his right but adds or deletes terms and/or conditions that render the offer different than that submitted by the third party prospective purchaser, the right of first refusal has not been properly exercised. However, a right of first refusal ripens into an option and is governed by the law of options when the owner of the property in question manifests a willingness to accept a good faith offer for the purchase of the property.  In that case, a party need not recite the terms of the third party contract he is agreeing to match when he exercises his right of first refusal; rather it is simply enough to announce an intent to match them. In this case, the trial court erred in rejecting the Former Husband’s attempt to exercise a right of first refusal with respect to the purchase of the former matrimonial home when, the right of first refusal had transformed into an option contract to which the Former Husband had agreed in principle (both before and after he invoked his “right of first refusal”). The trial court also erred in finding him in contempt for not executing a third party offer on the property. In this situation, the right of first refusal effectively transformed into an option contract when the Former Wife agreed in principle to accept the third party purchaser’s offer, both before and after the Former Husband had invoked his “right of first refusal.” The Former Husband had emailed indicating he would match the terms of another offer. This was sufficient to trigger the exercise of his right. The appeals court reversed and remanded to the trial court to strike the Former Husband’s contempt order, insofar as he was seeking to invoke and exercise his right of first refusal in the circumstances, and enforce the exercise of his right of first refusal.


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 March 1, 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:             Isaacs v. Isaacs
Court:            Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Arthur M. Birken.

Attorneys:     Pamela Jo Bondi, William H. Branch.
Issues:           Contempt. 

Holding:      Under Florida Family Law Rules, a contempt order must contain findings that a contemnor had the present ability to pay support under a prior court order and wilfully failed to comply. The issued contempt order must present a recital of the facts on which the court made the findings upon which it is based. Where a court orders incarceration as the appropriate sanction, the contempt order must also contain a separate affirmative finding (emphasis added) that the contemnor has the present ability to comply with the purge and the factual basis for that finding. In this case, the trial court erred as its order contained no recitation of facts to support the finding that appellant had the ability to comply with the court’s prior order. The appeals court reversed and remanded.


Case:              Purin v. Purin
Court:            Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Elizabeth V. Krier.
Attorneys:     Matthew E. Thatcher, Cynthia B. Hall.
Issues:           Alimony. 

Holding:        When determining alimony awards, the starting point is one party’s need and the other’s ability to pay. Generally, trial courts may not consider future events in setting current alimony amounts due to the uncertainty and lack of evidence. An obligor's retirement does not mandate termination of an alimony award. Retirement simply allows the trial court, upon proper motion, to revisit the parties' respective applicable circumstances. A trial court may consider a combined alimony award (being a nominal amount of permanent periodic alimony in conjunction with the durational alimony award). This approach may minimize the need for litigation at the time of an payor’s retirement while preserving an payee’s right to support if he or she continued to have need. Florida statute allows for the extension of durational alimony if a party can demonstrate exceptional circumstances showing the need for continued alimony.

In this case, the trial court erred in awarding durational, rather than permanent, alimony for a long-term marriage by speculating on the parties' needs and ability to pay when the Former Husband retired. A current alimony issue could not be properly resolved by addressing future contingencies. The trial court also misinterpreted statute in denying the Former Wife her statutory right to seek an extension of a durational alimony award. The appeals court reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. 


Case:             Westwood v. Westwood
Court:            Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:  Robert M. Evans.
Attorneys:    Matthew R. McLain, Nicholas A. Shannin.
Issues:           Modification, Process. 
Holding:      It is not improper for a trial court to deny a hearing on an unserved petition for modification. To succeed on modification a party must plead and prove a substantial, material, and unanticipated change of circumstances, and establish that modification is in the children’s best interest. In this case, the trial court did not err in denying the hearing on the Former Wife’s petition insofar as it was correct in viewing the pleading as an untimely motion for rehearing or reconsideration (rather than a supplemental petition). While the petition attempted to cover all bases, the Former Wife neither obtained a summons nor served the petition on the Former Husband. The appeals court’s decision was without prejudice to the Former Wife to re-file a properly served petition for modification. 


Case:              C.D. v. D.C.F.
Court:            First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   David M. Gooding.
Attorneys:   Jeffrey E. Lewis, Robert Keep, Jr., Crystal McBee Frusciante, Kelley Schaeffer, Ward L. Metzger.
Issues:           Termination of Parental Rights. 

Holding:       It is improper for a trial court to order termination of parental rights as the least restrictive means available to protect a child, or children, from serious harm when its findings of fact regarding a parent-child relationship are incongruous with that ruling. Specifically, if a trial court finds on the evidence that there is a bond or relationship between the parent and the child or children, it is incongruous to order termination as the least restrictive means of protection. Before parental rights in a child can be permanently and involuntarily severed, the state must show by clear and convincing evidence that reunification with the parent poses a substantial risk of significant harm to the child or children. The standard of review in termination of parental rights cases is highly deferential. In this case, while the trial court did not err to the extent it found that termination was warranted under Florida statute and because it was in the children’s manifest best interests, it did err to the extent that it found termination of the Mother’s parental rights was the least restrictive means available to protect the children from serious harm. The appeals court reversed termination on the least restrictive means basis and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


 

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 February 15, 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:              Atkinson v. Atkinson
Court:             Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Ashley B. Moody.
Attorneys:      Elizabeth S. Wheeler, Christian D. Denmon, Nicole Denmon, Andrew Plagge.
Issues:            Alimony.

Holding:        The court may reduce or terminate an award of alimony upon making specific written findings that, since the granting of a divorce and the award of alimony, a supportive relationship has existed between the payee and a person with whom the payee resides. Cohabitation often constitutes a change in circumstance. However, the definition of cohabitation and what facts, beyond a common residence, establish a supportive relationship rather than that of roommates or tenant/lodger. A trial court's decision concerning whether or not cohabitation has been established involves a mixed question of law and fact requiring a mixed standard of review, limited to determining whether they are supported by competent, substantial evidence. However, the appeals court reviewed the trial court's construction of the term "cohabitation" and its legal conclusions, de novo.  Matrimonial settlement agreements providing for the termination of alimony upon cohabitation are intended to protect the payor spouse from a continuing obligation to pay alimony when the payee spouse is residing with another person under circumstances similar or tantamount to marriage. Therefore, a finding of cohabitation requires more than the mere presence of another person under the payee spouse's roof.

In this case, the trial court erred in ruling that a male living in the Former Wife's residence amounted to "cohabitation with a male" within the meaning of the parties’ MSA, such that the Former Wife’s alimony award would terminate. On the evidence, the Former Wife and the man maintained a relationship more akin to his being a lodger or tenant. The appeals court reversed and remanded for, among other things, an amended order denying the Former Husband's petition to terminate his obligations to pay alimony and maintain a life insurance policy as security for its payment. 


Case:              Chamberlain v. Eisinger
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Paul B. Kanarek.
Attorneys:      A. Julia Graves
Issues:            Child Support, Imputed Income, Time-Sharing, Reunification. 

Holding:        Modification of Custody & Timesharing
When modifying a parenting and timesharing plan, the primary considerations are the best interests of the children. To modify an order of custody, the movant must show that: the circumstances have substantially and materially changed since the original custody determination; this change could not be contemplated by the parties at the time of the original judgment; and it is in the child’s best interests to change custody. While this onus on the party seeking to modify is intended to preclude repeated custody disputes, it should not preclude legitimate review of the petition. Courts must evaluate all relevant statutory factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child. A trial court’s order changing custody enjoys a presumption of correctness on appellate review and will only be disturbed for abuse of discretion.

In this case, the trial court did not err in concluding a substantial change in circumstances existed and that such change warranted the modification of timesharing because it trial court considered evidence relevant to the best interests of the children.

Reunification

A custodial parent has an affirmative obligation to encourage and nurture the relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent. This entails encouraging the child to interact with the noncustodial parent, taking good faith measures to ensure that the child visit and otherwise have frequent and continuing contact with the noncustodial parent and refraining from doing anything likely to undermine the relationship naturally fostered by such interaction. In this case, the trial court did not err in holding that the Former Husband was not thwarting the Former Wife’s efforts at reunification with the children insofar as he provided evidence to support his position while the Former Wife provided none. 

Child Support

The standard of review for a child support award is abuse of discretion. In this case, the trial court erred in factoring in the Former Husband’s alimony payments into child support for months where he failed to pay alimony.  The appeals court reversed and remanded for a determination of the amount of alimony paid to determine an offset to the retroactive child support obligation.

Imputing Income

When imputing income, the trial court must set forth factual findings, based on cogent evidence, concerning the probable and potential earnings level, source of imputed and actual income, and adjustments to income. In this case, the trial court erred in imputing income to the Former Husband in the absence of evidence. 


Case:              Clark v. Clark
Court:             First District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   John L. Miller.
Attorneys:      E. Jane Brehany.
Issues:            Alimony, Property Distribution. 

Holding:        Under Florida statutes, the date the petition for dissolution of marriage was filed is an appropriate date for classifying the parties’ assets as marital, and the date for determining value of assets classified as marital is the date, or dates, as the court deems is just and fair in the circumstances. In this case, the trial court did not err in using the petition filing date as the date for valuing a marital asset, an investment account, which was lower in value at the end of the marriage than at the beginning. The appeals court reversed that portion of the final judgment equitably distributing the parties’ marital assets and liabilities, and remanded for correct determination of the value of the asset. 


Case:              Jonas v. Jonas
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Lucy Chernow Brown.
Attorneys:      Roderick V. Hannah, Eric C. Christu.
Issues:            Jurisdiction, Foreign Judgments. 

Holding:        Comity requires courts state to refrain from exercising jurisdiction in certain cases. When a court is confronted with an action that would involve it in a serious interference with or usurpation of this continuing power, considerations of comity and orderly administration of justice demand that the non-rendering court should decline jurisdiction and remand the parties for their relief to the rendering court, so long as it is apparent that a remedy is available there. As for the principle of priority, or where a foreign court is first to assert jurisdiction, the usual remedy in such cases is to stay the subsequent proceeding in favor of the prior proceeding. The interests of judicial economy and finality may require that subsequent actions come to an end. The appeals court affirmed and required a former spouse to return to the original jurisdiction to conclude proceedings. 


Case:              Kelly v. Snietka
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Thomas Barkdull, III.
Attorneys:      Craig A. Boudreau, Scott D. Glassman, Sue-Ellen Kenny.
Issues:            Paternity, Child Support. 

Holding:        Under Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, the court may review any ruling or matter occurring before filing of a notice of appeal. A notice of appeal of a final judgment does not include orders entered after the final judgment unless they are specifically appealed. In this case, the trial court did not err in taking jurisdiction to consider an order vacating a prior final judgment and a motion to disqualify a trial judge, as both were issued before the final judgment, which is under appeal. 


Case:              Medina v. Haddad
Court:             Third District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Marcia B. Caballero.
Attorneys:      Brandon A. Rotbart.
Issues:            Procedure. 

Holding:        In deciding whether a protective order is appropriate in a particular case, the court must balance the competing interest that would be served by granting discovery or denying it.  Overall, means less intrusive than the release of confidential information should be used where available. In this case, the trial court erred by ordering the Former Wife to disclose settlement agreements between the law firm to which she was contracted and third parties. Such was the property of a non-party law firm or its non-party clients. Moreover, to do so might result in a breach of confidence. The appeals court quashed the order. 


Case:              Haeberli v. Haeberli
Court:             Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Bob Leblanc.
Attorneys:     
Issues:          Contempt.

Holding:          While a person facing civil contempt sanctions is not entitled to the full panoply of due process rights afforded to a person facing indirect criminal contempt charges, he or she is nonetheless entitled to a proceeding that meets the fundamental fairness requirements of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Such fundamental fairness includes providing the alleged contemnor with adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard. The failure to provide the Former Husband with any notice that motions for contempt would be considered justifies a reversal and a new hearing. An order finding the alleged contemnor to be in contempt shall contain a finding that a prior order of support was entered, the alleged contemnor has failed to pay part or all of the support ordered, the alleged contemnor had the present ability to pay support, and the alleged contemnor wilfully failed to comply with the prior court order. The order shall contain a recital of the facts on which these findings are based. In this case, the trial court erred when it denied the Former Husband due process by ruling on motions that had not been noticed for hearing. The appeals court reversed. 


Case:              Baker v. Baker
Court:             Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Bob Leblanc.
Attorneys:     
Issues:           Custody.

Holding:          To succeed on a petition for a change of custody, whether permanent or temporary, the petitioner must plead and prove, AND the trial court must find on the evidence, the following:

a)      that a substantial change of circumstances occurred since entry of the previous custody order, which was not reasonably contemplated when the previous order was entered; and

b)      the requested change of custody is in the best interests of the child.

If the first requirement is not met, the trial court need not address the second. A modification petition must be properly pled. Failure to plead properly is fatal, such that a modification order can be reversed on that basis by an appeals court. In this case, the trial court erred in temporarily changing custody because Former Wife failed to plead and prove a substantial change in circumstances since the previous custody determination and by modifying custody at a hearing that that was not properly noticed as being for a modification proceeding. 


Case:              Maguire v. Wright
Court:             Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Alan A. Dickey.
Attorneys:      Sarah H. Bolinder.
Issues:            Custody. 

Holding:      Florida statutes set out the factors a trial court must consider in creating a parenting plan that governs each parent’s relationship with his or her minor child and the relationship between each parent with regard to his or her minor child. While separate findings as to each factor are not required to sustain a temporary award, the record must reflect that the custody determination was made in the best interest of the child. However, the appeals court has also specifically recognized a “true emergency” exception to the general rule, concluding that the normal burden on the party seeking custody to show that the custody transfer is in the child’s best interest need not be met when there is an improper removal of a minor child from the state. If a court grants permission for a parent to remove a child from the jurisdiction for a date specific, the child must be returned by that date, failing which the removal becomes improper. Based on the context in which the removal is granted, it can be construed to be an interlocutory order determining the right to custody.  As such, the appeals court has jurisdiction under Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure. A further hearing may be necessary to resolve the issues of temporary shared parental responsibility and temporary timesharing in accordance with the relevant statutory criteria holding that the best interests of the child are paramount. In this case, the trial court did not err in granting temporary custody of the minor child to the Former Wife. The appeals court affirmed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on temporary shared parental responsibility and temporary time-sharing. 


Case:              Juchnowicz v. Juchnowicz
Court:             Second District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Rochelle T. Curley.
Attorneys:      W. Russell Snyder, Susan J. Silverman, Cynthia L. Greene, Deborah J. Blue.
Issues:            Alimony.

Holding:       Permanent alimony is to allow the requesting spouse to maintain the standard of living established by the parties during the marriage. In viewing the totality of the circumstances, one spouse should not be  "shortchanged."  Each party's standard of living must come as close as possible to the prior lifestyle, given the available financial resources. An award of permanent alimony is reviewed pursuant to the abuse of discretion standard. An award of permanent periodic alimony typically terminates upon the death of the obligor. However, Florida statutes allows a trial court to order an alimony obligor to purchase or maintain a life insurance policy to the extent necessary to protect an award of alimony.

In this case, the trial court erred in making the alimony award without adequate consideration of the substantial income disparity between the parties. The award was not commensurate with the parties' marital standard of living and created a gross disparity. Nor was the award secured. The appeals court reversed the award of permanent periodic alimony and remanded for proceedings and to mandate the Husband to secure the alimony award with a life insurance policy.


Case:              Winton v. Saffer
Court:             Third District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   George A. Sarduy.
Attorneys:      Chantale L. Suttle, Holly A. Aliprandi, John B. Agnetti, Armand Murach
Issues:            Arrearages.

Holding:        When considering a petition regarding arrearages, the trial court must make its findings based on substantial, competent evidence showing that the payor spouse failed to make support payments as required despite an apparent ability to do so. The record must discloses the calculations and evidence establishing the commencement of the arrearages, the total unpaid balance, and the computation of the purge amount. As to the purge amount, the court must make a separate, affirmative finding that the contemnor possesses the present ability to comply with the purge conditions.  The amount itself must be supported by substantial, competent evidence. Relief exceeding the amount which is pled is impermissible.

In this case, the trial court erred when it awarded an amount in excess of the amount calculable on the record and which exceeded the amount recoverable, based on the Former Wife’s pleadings. While there was substantial, competent evidence to support the court’s findings that the Former Husband failed to make support payments as required, despite an apparent ability to do so, the record did not disclose the calculations and evidence establishing the commencement of the arrearages, the total unpaid balance, and the computation of the purge amount. The appeals court reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings.


Case:              P.C. v. D.C.F. and Guardian ad litem
Court:             Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Trial Judge:   Kenneth L. Gillespie.
Attorneys:      Denise E. Kistner, Pamela Jo Bondi, Carolyn Schwarz.
Issues:            Parental Rights.

Holding:        When considering the termination of parental rights, the court must do so on the basis of:

a)      competent, substantial evidence of the grounds alleged by the Department of Children and Families under Florida statute;

b)      upon making statutorily-required findings of fact and conclusions of law; and

c)      ensuring that the termination of parental rights is not the least restrictive means to protect the child from harm.

The termination order should address which grounds form the basis for the termination.

In this case, the trial court erred in making the termination order which did not specify the grounds for the basis on termination in that competent, substantial evidence did not support one of the grounds alleged by the D.C.F. under Florida statute for termination. However, there was such evidence under the remaining allegations. The appeals court affirmed the termination of parental rights, but remanded with instructions to the court to amend the final judgment to indicate in its conclusions of law that the termination was based on the grounds alleged and substantiated.


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.