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How the Rules Related to Jurisdiction Can Affect Your Family Law Case in the Florida Courts

gavelThere are several things you should assess before you decide to go to court seeking a modification of a divorce judgment or alimony, child custody/timesharing, child support, or other family law-related court order. First, you have to “have a case,” meaning that the facts of your case must indicate that the law is potentially on your side. Second, you have to be entitled by the law to bring your case in the place where you want to file (which is known as “jurisdiction”). If you don’t have these things, you likely won’t be able to achieve the outcome you want. An experienced Florida child custody attorney can help you make these types of analyses and determine a path forward for you and your family.

The issue of jurisdiction can potentially trip up litigants because it involves a more technical understanding of legal and procedural intricacies. Take, as an example, the case of Clifton, who lived in Jacksonville. Some years earlier, Clifton had married Elizabeth, and the couple had three children. The couple later divorced, and a New York court entered the divorce order terminating the marriage. The couple agreed that the mother would be the primary residential parent and that the father would pay child support until the children turned age 21.

As happens for a lot of families, things evolved over time. The two older children had each turned 18, and one of them had moved in with the father in Florida. The mother and the other two children lived in Georgia.

By 2015, the father wanted to modify the 2011 New York order in light of the changes that had taken place. He wanted a new order that modified timesharing and recalculated child support. To accomplish this goal, he filed in his home county of Duval, here in Florida. The judge in Duval County ruled in favor of the father and made the modifications he requested.

The trial judge’s order would seem to indicate that the facts of the father’s case, as presented, demonstrated that the law was on his side as it related to the underlying custody issues. What wasn’t on his side was the hurdle of jurisdiction, which is why, when the wife appealed, she won. The wife’s successful appeal included not only a reversal of the favorable lower court ruling but also an order from the appeals court to the trial judge to dismiss the father’s case entirely.

What went wrong for the father? While the law may have been on his side regarding custody and timesharing, it was not on his side regarding jurisdiction. The Florida Statutes have two sections that permit Florida courts to modify out-of-state child support judgments. One section covers situations in which all of the parties live in Florida. That wouldn’t apply here because the wife in this case was a Georgia resident. The second statute allows Florida courts to act if the parent seeking modification is not a Florida resident, and all of the children are residents of this state. Unfortunately for this father, his circumstances met almost none of those criteria because he was a Florida resident, and two of the three children were non-residents. This all meant that there was no applicable Florida statute that gave the Florida courts the authority to enter an order granting the father the modification he sought.

The father might well have been legally entitled to the modification he sought. He simply wasn’t entitled to obtain that modification order from a Florida court. Sometimes, you may find yourself facing a situation in which you need to litigate, or defend, in a state that isn’t your home. Whether you are a resident or a non-resident, whenever you find yourself facing or potentially facing family law litigation in Florida, it is extremely important to put knowledgeable Florida counsel on your side to protect the interests of you and your family. The diligent South Florida child custody attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have been helping Florida resident and non-resident clients and their families in handling their family law cases in the Florida courts for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

How Questions About Your Residence Can Unravel Your Florida Child Custody Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 26, 2017

Jurisdiction Rules Prevent Father From Modifying Child Support in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 24, 2014

Photo Credit: George Hodan, [CC0 License], via publicdomainpictures.net.