A Florida appeals court recently ruled that the interests of “justice and … equity” necessitated requiring an ex-husband to pay his ex-wife’s attorney’s fees in the child support action the wife initiated. The court’s ruling highlighted that, because the husband had a substantially greater ability to pay, and prolonged the trial court litigation through his failure to engage in full and prompt disclosure of his wealth, an award of attorney’s fees was proper under the statutory law.
The dispute began five years after the parents of two children divorced in 2005. The couple’s marital settlement agreement required the husband to pay family support in a flat amount from 2005-2010, and in accordance with the Florida guidelines thereafter. Unable to reach a negotiated agreement in 2010, the couple returned to court to determine the new amount of support. Despite having a net worth of nearly $5 million, the husband told the trial court he had little to no income. The trial court ultimately concluded that the husband had a monthly income of $25,000 and the wife’s income was less than $3,800.
The Orange County Circuit Court ordered the husband to pay $2,608 per month, but declined the wife’s request for an award of attorney’s fees. The trial court concluded that the wife’s 2010 action was an enforcement action related to the settlement agreement, and Florida law directed that she not receive attorney’s fees.
Last month, the Fifth District Court of Appeal disagreed and reversed the decision, ordering the trial court to grant the wife’s request. The appeals court explained that the 1979 case the trial court relied upon, Flanders v. Flanders, was different from the situation in this case. The Flanderses’ dispute revolved around the distribution of the proceeds from a sale of jointly owned property. The court stated that the current dispute, one regarding child support, fell under the coverage of Section 61.16 of the Florida Statutes, not the Flanders ruling.
Section 61.16 seeks to provide both spouses with similar ability to retain attorneys to litigate domestic matters. The statute permits a court to award court costs and attorneys’ fees to the less affluent party, and the Florida Supreme Court stated in 2000 that courts should apply Section 61.16 liberally and award fees and costs readily whenever necessary to promote justice and increase equity between the parties.
In this case, the Fifth District concluded that both justice and equity pointed toward granting the wife’s request. First, equity demanded it, in light of the parties’ financial disparity. The husband was worth $4.6 million and had an income of roughly $300,000 per year. The wife made only $45,000 per year, half of which was financial assistance from her parents, and her only significant asset was the former marital residence. The court also decided that justice favored the award, noting that the litigation at the trial court level was “protracted,” largely due to the husband. The husband made minimal disclosures except when the court compelled him. Even then, the husband asserted having next to no income.
The South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. offer knowledgeable and thoughtful advice and advocacy to people in the Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade areas, to help them resolve their divorce and family law matters. Whether you or your spouse are seeking an award of child support, contact us right away to aid you in reaching a solution that that works. Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Notorious Child Support Evader and Florida Child Support Law, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 19, 2013
Alimony, Child Support, Equitable Distribution And Attorney’s Fee Award Reversed In Broward Divorce, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 25, 2012