Court Examines the Unclean Hands Doctrine in Florida Family Law Cases

The Florida courts protect people in family law matters from suffering adverse consequences due to one party’s “unclean hands.” In other words, the courts will often deny a party relief if they caused the issue in question in bad faith. The courts cannot sua sponte apply the unclean hands doctrine, however, as explained in a recent Florida child support case in which the father sought a modification. Instead, the issue must be brought before the court by a party. If you are subject to a child support obligation and you or a co-parent intend to ask the court to alter the support order, it is in your best interest to talk to a Miami child support attorney about your rights.

Procedural Background of the Case

It is alleged that the mother filed a paternity action, which ultimately determined the parentage of the father. The court then entered a child support order, in which it imposed a support obligation on the father. The father later petitioned the court to modify the support obligation. The court denied the father’s petition, mostly due to a finding of unclean hands. The father appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion in denying his petition.

The Unclean Hands Doctrine in Florida Family Law Cases

On appeal, the court found in favor of the father and reversed the trial court ruling. The court noted that the trial court adopted the report and recommendation of a magistrate, advising the court to deny the father’s petition due to a finding of unclean hands. The court explained, however, that the record revealed that the matter of unclean hands was not properly before the magistrate.

In other words, the mother did not raise it as an affirmative defense in response to the father’s petition and did not assert it at the hearing on the petition. The court explained that the principle of party presentation is well-recognized in the United States legal system, meaning that, as a general rule, the parties are responsible for advancing arguments and facts that would entitle them to relief.

This means that, with rare exceptions, the courts should not go looking for wrongs to rectify but should only address the issues presented by the parties. As the trial court in the subject case relied on unpled and unargued grounds for denying the father’s request for relief, the court found that the trial court abused its discretion and granted the father’s appeal.

Meet with an Experienced Miami Attorney

While parents can ask the courts to modify child support obligations, the courts will most likely deny their request if it is not made in good faith. If you need assistance with a child support matter, it is prudent to meet with an attorney promptly to avoid waiving important rights. The Miami lawyers of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have ample experience helping parties protect their interests in child support matters, and if you hire us, we will diligently pursue the best result possible under the facts of your case. We have an office in Aventura, and we routinely represent people in child support actions in Miami. You can contact us via our online form or at 800-596-0579 to set up a consultation.