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The Constitutional Right of Due Process of Law and Your Florida Annulment Case

gavelDifferent circumstances can create different needs for different couples. Many people going to court seeking an end to their marriage desire a divorce. Sometimes, though, the person filing seeks not a dissolution but an annulment, which has a different impact on the spouses in terms of the rights of each. Regardless of whether you’re going to court to seek a divorce or annulment, one thing remains constant (in these and other cases), which is the parties’ fundamental right to due process of law. Experienced Florida divorce counsel can help you protect your rights as you engage with the legal system.

The case of Jeffrey M. and Karen N., which provided a clear illustration of a due process violation, was the result of the couple’s very brief and presumably unsatisfying marriage. The pair wed on May 9, 2014. A mere seven months later, the husband filed a petition in court, asking the judge to annul the marriage. In his court papers, the husband contended that the pair had separated immediately after the wedding, that they had never lived together as husband and wife, and that they “never consummated the marriage in any manner.”

The pair eventually worked out some of their issues when it came to the payment of certain debts and other financial matters. The wife eventually filed a request seeking to enforce a settlement agreement the two had created.

Jeffrey and Karen’s case was scheduled for a hearing on March 1, 2016. At the hearing, attorneys for both spouses attended, but neither spouse was there. After the judge requested that the lawyers summon their clients to the hearing, the wife’s attorney was able to reach her, and she came to the hearing. The husband’s lawyer could not reach him. The judge swore in the wife and took testimony from her. Based entirely on that testimony, the judge denied the request for an annulment and, based upon the wife’s in-court request, instead proceeded with the case as a divorce matter. At the end of the hearing, the court granted a divorce to the pair.

The court of appeal threw out that ruling and sent the case back to the trial court. The appellate court’s decision is important in multiple areas. First, the opinion highlights that certain constitutional rights, such as the right to due process of law, apply in almost any court proceeding, including an annulment case. The parties were not notified that the March 1 hearing would be an evidentiary hearing. Once the trial judge concluded that an annulment could not be granted without taking evidence from the couple, the court should have stopped and scheduled the case for an evidentiary hearing at a future date. Proceeding with an evidentiary hearing in the absence of the husband’s attendance, when the husband had no notice that an evidentiary hearing was going to take place, was a clear violation of his due process rights.

The case is also notable in its highlighting the difference between an annulment and a divorce. When a court grants an annulment, that declares the marriage void, which means that it is as if the marriage had never existed at all. While, if there are children, matters like child support can proceed in the same way as with a divorce, other issues (like the equitable distribution of assets) are not the same. Depending on the facts of your situation and on your needs, it may benefit you to seek an end to your marriage via an annulment as opposed to a divorce (or vice versa).

Whether you need to seek a divorce or an annulment, or you have some other form of family law-related need, the knowledgeable South Florida annulment attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are here to help. Our attorneys have been representing people in divorce, annulment, and other family law cases for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Constitutional Due Process Protections and Your Florida Domestic Violence Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 25, 2016

Florida Appeals Court Tosses Out Contempt Order Due to Violation of Husband’s Due Process Rights, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 13, 2016

Photo Credit: George Hodan, [CC0 License], via Pixabay

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