Family Law Appellate Update for week ending 10/28/16

FelixBaseman
FelixBaseman

Stanfield v. Marquis (Fifth DCA, October 28, 2016)

The underlying case was one to modify a paternity judgment with respect to timesharing and child support.  The parties were pro se.  Trial occurred in March 2013.  In November 2013, the mother sent an ex parte letter to the judge with a proposed final judgment.  In October 2014, the mother sent another rex parte letter to the judge including additional accusations against the father and “begging” the court for a final judgment.  In December 2014, “at or about the time the trial judge was retiring,” the judge entered a final judgment that was nearly identical to mother’s proposal.  The father appealed without filing a motion for rehearing.

The District Court observed that there was a 22-month delay between trial and entry of the trial court’s final judgment.  It considered this delay to be excessive but noted that this alone is not necessarily grounds for reversal.  However, the Court explained that such a long delay in a case involving the “best interests of minor children” is “indefensible and intolerable,” noting that in such cases a “prompt disposition is vital.”  The fact that the judge adopted the mother’s proposed final judgment verbatim made reversal even more appropriate.

The District Court explained that the father likely should have filed a motion for rehearing with the trial court to preserve his objections for appeal.  That said, it reasoned that because the unreasonable delay argument was not the sole basis for his appeal, the District Court had the authority to proceed.  Furthermore, the District Court suggested that because this case involved the best interests of minor children, the otherwise strict requirement that a litigant move for rehearing “is not fatal” to the father’s appeal.