Presumption of Permanent Alimony; Support for Attorney’s Fees Award; Destroyed Transcripts; Payment of Guardian Ad Litem Fees (Family Law Appellate Update)

FelixBaseman
FelixBaseman

Dickson v. Dickson (4th DCA) 

Following a 19-year marriage, the trial court denied the wife permanent alimony in favor of bridge-the-gap alimony and failed to award retroactive child support. The Fourth District reversed.

The District Court reiterated that there is a presumption that permanent alimony is appropriate in a marriage that is longer than 17 years.  The Court noted that the evidence at trial was limited, but concluded that the trial judge had ruled out permanent alimony based on the fact that the wife was only 42 years old.  The Court explained that age alone cannot defeat the statutory presumption, and remanded for the trial court to consider all applicable factors to determine whether permanent alimony was appropriate.

The Court also found that bridge-the-gap alimony was inappropriate, stating that such alimony should be awarded only when (1) there is evidence that the recipient is presently capable of self-support and that he or she simply needs assistance transitioning from married to single life or, (2) that the recipient will be capable of self-support after the alimony period expires.  Evidence that a party will be eligible to enter the job market in the near future is insufficient absent evidence that jobs will be available to that party at the time the alimony terminates.

Finally, the Court ordered the trial judge to reconsider its failure to award retroactive child support, explaining that retroactive support must be awarded from the date of the filing of a petition when there is a need for child support and an ability to pay.

Jordan v. Jordan (4th DCA) 

Among other things, the Fourth DCA reversed an attorney’s fees award and remanded the divorce case to the trial court to readdress its permanent alimony award.

The Court found that the attorney’s fees award was improper because it was based solely on the wife’s testimony.  The wife’s attorneys failed to provide testimony or affidavits supporting the number of hours incurred, and the trial court neglected to make findings on the reasonableness of the hours spent and rates billed.  The Court therefore reversed the award.

As to permanent alimony, the Court remanded solely because the trial court failed to make a finding that “no other form of alimony is fair and reasonable under the circumstances.”  The Court acknowledged that this finding was likely implied in the final order, and that the trial judge would “no doubt” make the finding on remand, but added that the statute requires the finding be explicitly made whenever permanent alimony is awarded.

Jackson v. Jackson (3d DCA) 

The husband appealed his final judgment of divorce.  When he attempted to obtain a copy of the transcript from the four-day trial, he learned that the court reported had committed suicide and that the reporter’s equipment could not be found.

Unable to provide a transcript, the husband filed a brief based on his memory of what had occurred at trial.  The wife attempted to strike the brief.

The Third DCA denied the wife’s motion and remanded the case for a new trial on all issues.  The Court stated that a new trial was required “due to the unique circumstances” of the case, contrasting it with situations where the lack of a record is due to the “appellant’s lack of diligence in obtaining a court reporter.”

Adkins v. Sotolongo (3d DCA)

The guardian ad litem moved for payment of her fees, and the trial court ordered that $200 of the husband’s monthly child support payments go toward same.

The District Court reversed for several reasons.  Most notably, the Court explained that it is improper to subordinate child support to pay for other services, including attorney’s fees and guardian ad litem fees.