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Default Judgments and Their Impact on Your Florida Family Law Case

Gavel - sxchu websiteWhen you fail to follow the judge’s instructions in a court order, there are usually negative consequences that happen as a result. A court can do many things to punish a party that does not follow court orders. One option — which is what happened in this case — is that the judge strikes the non-compliant party’s pleadings. That means that it is as if the party had never filed his complaint (or answer) with the court, at all. In family law cases, though, even if your spouse has his pleadings struck by the court, the law still affords him certain rights, and requires you to prove certain things, as a recent 5th District Court of Appeal case showed.

In that case, H.L. (husband) and R.L. (wife) were in the process of getting divorced. With any divorce action, the Florida court rules require each spouse to make certain disclosures to the other. These disclosures involve providing certain financial information and documentation to the other side to facilitate the case going forward.

In this case, the husband did not make his mandatory disclosures. He also failed to comply with various orders issued by the trial court. Based upon these failures and misdeeds, the trial judge struck the husband’s answer filing in the case. With no answer before the court, that meant the husband had no arguments or evidence properly presented to the court. As a result, the wife asked for a default judgment in her favor. A default judgment is one issued in favor of a party based upon the other side’s failure to perform some task, such as filing a valid answer. The judge issued the judgment in R.L.’s favor. The default judgment covered many aspects of parental responsibility, including timesharing and child support.

The husband appealed and the appeals court sided with him. In this case, the trial judge issued the default judgment without taking any evidence. That was improper in a family law case like this. Even in a situation where the opposing spouse or parent has their filings struck by the judge, the law requires a party in a divorce or parental responsibility case who is asking for default judgment to prove that they are entitled to the outcome they’ve requested. For R.L., that meant that, even with her husband’s answer struck by the judge, she was still required to prove that she was entitled to receive the things she sought.

Further working against the trial court’s judgment was the fact that this case involved child custody and support issues. The law generally opposes deciding matters of child custody, support, and timesharing based upon default judgments. Default judgments are, fundamentally, outcomes based upon one party’s failure to comply with court rules or procedures. Child custody, support and timesharing matters are issues where the best interest of the child is always the most important consideration.

There was another error in the default judgment, as well. Even if a court has properly struck your court pleadings, the law still entitles you to notice of a hearing and an opportunity to be heard, which the husband did not receive in this case. Be aware, though, that the court’s ruling striking your pleadings may greatly limit what document evidence you can present and may block you from calling any witnesses other than yourself.

There are potentially many twists and turns to a family law case. Navigating the system requires a clear understanding of the facts and the law. The experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have many years of experience dealing with family law disputes and working to achieve successful outcomes. Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Court Sends North Florida Father’s Parenting Plan, Child Support Case Back for Recalculation of Parents’ Incomes, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 10, 2015

What Happens When a Parent Does Not Comply With a Florida Timesharing Order, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 11, 2015