Family Law Appellate Update for week ending 12/30/16

FelixBaseman
FelixBaseman

Gardiner v. Gardiner (Second DCA, December 28, 2016)

In an initial divorce case, the trial court found that the wife had a need for alimony but that the husband no longer had the ability to pay.  It therefore denied the wife’s petition for alimony, but it granted the wife’s request for the marital home (worth about $100,000) and characterized the award as lump-sum alimony.  The husband appealed and the District Court reversed.

Initially, the District Court explained that a trial court must specify whether a lump sum alimony award is in the nature of support or an unequal distribution of marital assets.  It added that in this case, the award would need to be reversed regardless of its nature due to a lack of required findings.

The District Court explained that trial courts must consider (and include factual findings) each enumerated statutory factor before awarding and unequal distribution or lump sum alimony.  Furthermore, with respect to a lump sum alimony award, trial courts must make an additional finding that the payor spouse can make the payment without “endangering his or her economic status.”  Because the order on review lacked these factual findings, the District Court reversed and remanded.

Navaro v. Navaro (First DCA, December 30, 2016)

The trial court entered a final divorce judgment that identified and distributed the parties’ marital assets but failed to value each asset.  The District Court reversed because a trial court must value each asset and liability prior to distributing them pursuant to section 61.075.

Moreover, the District Court observed that if the values on the parties’ respective financial affidavits were used, it appeared that the wife would have received a significant unequal distribution in her favor.  The Court observed that while a trial court may award an unequal distribution, it may do so only if it includes specific written findings justifying such distribution.  Because the final judgment under reviewed lacked such findings, the Court reversed and remanded on that issue as well.

Pinnock v. Whyte (Third DCA, December 28, 2016)

In this paternity case, the parties entered into a partial mediated settlement agreement.  The trial court then entered a notice of hearing, which stated that the hearing would serve as a final hearing if the respondent had not filed an answer, or a status conference if the respondent had answered.  Despite the fact that the respondent had filed an answer, the trial court converted the hearing to a final hearing, addressed and ruled on all issues not covered in the partial settlement agreement and entered a final judgment.

The Third District reversed, holding that the trial court violated the father’s due process rights to notice by going beyond the scope of the hearing as originally set by the court.