When you are part of a contested divorce case, arguably the most important day in the entire process is the day (or days) of the final hearing in your case. That’s when you and your spouse, through your lawyers, put on your evidence and make your arguments. Now, imagine doing that without an advance warning about when the final hearing was to take place. Fortunately, the Constitution’s Due Process Clause bars such a situation, and, citing that clause, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a final judgment in one recent divorce because the wife did not receive proper notice that a hearing before the court would be her case’s final hearing.
The wife in this case was A.S., who married N.S. (husband) in India in 2013. Shortly after the wedding, the husband moved to Florida. A year later, the husband filed for divorce. The husband asserted that the marriage was irretrievably broken and that the couple shared no marital personal property or real estate that would require division. The wife submitted a response that asserted that the marriage was not irretrievably broken. She also challenged the husband’s claims about property division and informed the court that she lived in India, lacked immigration clearance to travel to Florida, and lacked the financial means to hire a lawyer.
Having heard all this, the trial court scheduled the case for a hearing on July 30, 2014. The event was to be either an uncontested final hearing or else, if the matter was properly contested, a conference to assess the status of the case. On July 30, despite the fact the wife had submitted a written reply contesting the divorce, and also appeared by telephone at the hearing to contest, the trial court went forward with the final hearing in the case. The judge took testimony and issued a final judgment resolving the divorce.
After eventually securing appellate counsel, the wife appealed. The 3d DCA agreed with the wife that the trial court should not have gone forward with a final hearing on July 30. Doing so violated the wife’s right to due process. Due process requires “proper notice and an opportunity to be heard.” What the trial court did before and during the July 30 hearing fell clearly short of proper notice. The court explicitly stated that, if the case was contested, the July 30 event would merely be a status conference. The July 30 event would only be a final hearing if the case was uncontested. The wife clearly contested several key aspects of the husband’s divorce petition. The trial judge should have used the July 30 event to conduct a status conference only. The court should not have taken testimony and should not have issued a final judgment. When it did so, it conducted a trial without having given the wife sufficient notice that she would be submitting her case on that date.
If your spouse files for divorce, and your case proceeds as a contested one, you want to be sure the case you put on at your final hearing is the best possible one. For experienced and determined counsel, consult the South Florida divorce attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our attorneys have the skills and knowledge to provide you with the representation you need. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule a confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Determining the Proper County to Adjudicate Your Florida Divorce Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 25, 2015
Lack of Due Process, Improper Burden-Shifting Sends Divorce Case Back to Trial Court, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 12, 2015