Court Could Not Hear Child Support Case Against Swedish Father with Insufficient Ties to Florida

A man from Sweden found himself facing a child support case in South Florida, but he ultimately was able to persuade the 4th District Court of Appeal that the Florida courts could not hear the case because Florida lacked personal jurisdiction over him. Simply taking action in the case for the purpose of seeking the matter’s dismissal is not enough to trigger personal jurisdiction. Even when you are trying to persuade the courts that you do not have the required minimum contact with Florida, this does not handcuff you into refraining from taking action in the case, as long as that action is strictly defensive in nature.

The case was a child support action in which the mother, C.L., asked a Broward County court to impose a support obligation on the father, C.G. The court papers were served on the father in Sweden, where he resided. The mother argued that, in accordance with the Hague Convention’s rules regarding overseas service, the court could extend its jurisdiction over the father. The father submitted a limited response, filed (and quickly withdrew) two discovery requests, and also agreed to extend a discovery deadline.

When the father asked the trial court to throw the case out for lack of jurisdiction over him, the trial court refused. According to the trial judge, the father “voluntarily submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the trial court by participating in the litigation by moving the court to grant requests materially beneficial” to him.

The father appealed and won. There are several ways that a Florida court could have had jurisdiction over this dispute, each of which would have required the father to have had some contact with Florida. If the couple had conceived their child in Florida, or if the father had visited or had resided in the state, the court possibly could have taken and adjudicated the case. In addition to these actions, there are others contained within two statutes, Sections 48.193 and 88.2011, that can trigger jurisdiction. In this case, C.G. had done none of these acts.

Simply establishing the presence of one of these events (listed in Sections 48.193 and 88.2011) does not always automatically create jurisdiction in all cases, though. Back in 2011, the 4th DCA affirmed a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction in a Palm Beach County child custody case, even though the father sufficiently contended that the child in question was conceived in Florida. In that case, despite the terms of Section 88.2011, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act dictated that New Hampshire was the child’s “home state” and that courts outside the child’s home state could not exercise jurisdiction.

Sometimes, however, even when a person does not have the required type of minimum contacts with the state, a Florida court can still exercise jurisdiction if that person actively participates in the litigation in certain ways. For example, if C.G. had countersued C.L. and argued that she owed him alimony, that would have triggered the Florida court’s jurisdiction over him. None of this happened, though. Simply responding to the mother’s suit for the purpose of arguing that the suit should be dismissed does not count as participating in the litigation in a way that triggers jurisdiction. The father’s actions within the case amounted to “purely defensive” steps and could not be construed as “requests for affirmative relief.”

There are times when you may find yourself facing a family law action in a state with which you have no contact. Even when that’s true, it is still important not to ignore the case but instead obtain capable legal counsel to assist and represent you. The South Florida child support attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have many years of assisting all kinds of clients with their family law cases within the Florida courts. Contact our skilled, diligent attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Florida Court Refuses to Hear Family Law Case Best Litigated in New Jersey, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 30, 2014

Florida Court Orders Russian Mother to Adjudicate Child Support Case Overseas, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 12, 2013

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