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Alimony, Child Support, Equitable Distribution And Attorney’s Fee Award Reversed In Broward Divorce

In a recent Broward divorce case, the former husband appealed the final judgment of dissolution of marriage. He claimed that Broward Circuit Judge Alfred J. Horowitz entered a final judgment of dissolution of marriage that did not reflect a settlement agreement that was reached by the parties and subsequently announced on the record.

During the trial, the parties reached a settlement agreement which was announced on the record by the former wife’s counsel. The trial court ensured that both parties had discussed the terms and conditions with their lawyer, had their respective questions answered and were entering into the agreement freely and voluntarily. Next, the trial court instructed the lawyers to submit a proposed final judgment of dissolution of marriage reflecting the agreement announced in open court. Counsel for the former wife moved for the entry of a final judgment of dissolution of marriage when the former husband had retained new counsel, Sandy T. Fox, Esquire, who objected to the former wife’s proposed final judgment of dissolution of marriage.

At the hearing several weeks later, the former husband’s new Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney, Sandy T. Fox, Esquire, argued that the former wife’s proposed final judgment of dissolution of marriage did not reflect to the oral stipulation announced on the record. Specifically, Mr. Fox disagreed with the proposed final judgment of dissolution of marriage as it related to the duration of alimony, child support award, equitable distribution of the marital residence and the payment of attorney’s fees and costs. Judge Horowitz instructed the Broward divorce attorneys to submit a proposed final judgment of dissolution of marriage in accordance with the settlement agreement that was announced in open court.

After receiving a letter from Mr. Fox that objected to the former wife’s proposed final judgment of dissolution of marriage along with the former husband’s proposed final judgment of dissolution of marriage, the trial court adopted the former wife’s proposed final judgment of dissolution without any changes whatsoever.

The settlement agreement provided for durational alimony of $1,000 per month but did not specify that it would continue for ten years, a period of time unilaterally selected by the former wife. As such, the final judgment of dissolution of marriage was remanded for the trial court to consider the duration of alimony and make findings consistent with section 61.08, Florida Statutes (2009).

The settlement agreement also provided that the child support award was to be agreed upon by the parties. The Fourth District Court of Appeal found that there was no meeting of the minds since the former husband specifically objected to the child support award and the lower tribunal’s failure to impute income to the former wife. Additionally, the stipulation of the parties reflected that the former husband would pay child support for two children yet the final judgment of dissolution of marriage required the former husband to pay child support for three children. In reversing the child support award, the trial court was directed to consider or impute income to the former wife since, under Florida law, a court must impute income to a voluntarily unemployed or underemployed parent unless the lack of employment is the result of the spouse’s physical incapacity or other circumstances beyond the party’s control.

Finally, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s payment of attorney’s fees from the distribution of proceeds from the sale of the marital residence. The settlement agreement provided that each parties’ attorneys’ fees would be paid from the proceeds of the sale of the house “off the top.” Yet, the final judgment of dissolution of marriage required the former husband to pay his own attorney’s fees.