Family law cases, like many varieties of litigation, can sometimes take unexpected turns. One such example was a case recently decided by the Fifth District Court of Appeal. In this case, a mother in a child support case lost her job after the final hearing but before the trial court issued its judgment. The appeals court upheld the trial court’s refusal to grant a motion to reopen the case, since granting that type of motion would prejudice the father too much and essentially require starting the case over from the beginning.The litigants in this case were a couple from Brevard County. They were in court to establish a parenting plan and child support. The parenting plan called for the father to have the children 2/3 of the time and the mother to receive 1/3 of the time. Based upon the timesharing, the parents’ incomes, and all of the other relevant factors, the trial court determined that the wife owed child support. In assessing the wife’s child support obligation, the court followed the child support guidelines based upon the mother’s income from her job.
In many ways, this may sound like an “ordinary” child support case. However, this case wasn’t ordinary. After the court had already finished the final hearing (but before it issued its order), the mother lost her job. This, the mother argued, greatly reduced her income.
Based upon that, the mother asked the court to reopen the case to accept new evidence, namely, the evidence of her termination and loss of income. The father opposed the mother’s request. He argued that the mother was not entitled to reopen the case and that, if the mother wanted to argue for a change based upon her loss of income, the proper procedural method to do so was to file a request for a modification of her child support obligation under Section 61.14 of the Florida Statutes.
The trial court denied the motion to reopen and instead set the mother’s child support payment, using her pre-termination income. She appealed, but she lost. The appeals court, while acknowledging that it was “not unsympathetic to Former Wife’s position,” still concluded that a motion to reopen wasn’t the proper procedural method to obtain the relief she sought. The mother cited several cases, but those cases almost all involved granting motions to reopen when there had been “inadvertent omissions of evidence.” This mother’s situation was different. Here, the court concluded, there was no accidentally omitted evidence; there was an entirely new issue that emerged at the last moment.
The law requires trial courts to look at two things in deciding a motion to reopen: (1) the degree of prejudice or harm to the opposing party and (2) whether or not reopening would “serve the best interests of justice.” In this case, granting the mother’s motion would bring the parties back to “square one” and essentially demand a new trial, in the appellate court’s estimation. Under those circumstances, the trial judge did not act improperly in denying the mother’s request.
You never know when something unexpected will affect your family law case. That is just one of many reasons why you need an experienced and skilled advocate on your side. The South Florida child support attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have handled many child support cases and have the resources to help you deal with your case, even in the wake of unexpected events. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
What Florida Law Does (and Doesn’t) Require You to Do to Meet Your Child Support Obligations, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 12, 2017
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