Court’s Refusal to Allow Mother to Present Her Case-in-Chief Violated Her Due Process Rights, Florida Appeals Court Says

You may have heard phrases like “due process” or “equal protection” on the news or in a courtroom TV show, but you may not imagine them having a substantial impact on your divorce case. You may assume that your divorce case will involve, primarily, an assessment of the factual evidence each side presents. That is not always true, however. Any family law case, like any other case, can turn on issues of fact or issues of law, including constitutional law. That’s why, no matter how straightforward or basic you may think your family law case is, you should be sure to retain the services of an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

One recent South Florida case is an example of this concept. Zanja and Richard’s case started as a straightforward paternity, timesharing, and child support matter. The court originally scheduled the hearing for one day. As is true in many cases, this pair’s hearing ran long. At the end of the first day of the hearing, the judge scheduled a second day for the continuation of the hearing. At the start of that second day, the court indicated that both sides would have a chance to present their cases-in-chief.

At the end of the second day, the parties still weren’t finished. However, this time, the judge did not allow the hearing to expand to another day. The judge ordered that, due to time limitations, each side would simply wrap up by presenting their closing arguments, and the judge would rule on what had been presented. There was one major problem:  the mother still hadn’t had the opportunity to present her case-in-chief yet.

The hearing ended, and the court issued its order. The mother, unhappy with the outcome, appealed.

The appeals court ruled that the mother was entitled to a new hearing. The reason that the resolution of the case was not proper was based upon fundamental concepts of fairness and justice that underlie the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. In 2014, the 4th DCA ruled that, even when a court strives to allow each side equal time, there are certain things that cannot be skipped. “Due process requires that a party be given the opportunity to be heard and to testify and call witnesses on the party’s behalf,” the court wrote in that opinion. The 2014 ruling went on to declare that “justice cannot be ‘administered arbitrarily with a stopwatch.’”

Even if a party’s evidence in her case-in-chief would have proven to be weak and unpersuasive, that’s not the point. The notion of justice within the Due Process Clause requires that each litigant get a chance to present her evidence to the court and argue her case. A person deprived of that is a person who was deprived of due process of law.

At every step throughout the legal process, you have certain rights under the statutes and the Constitution. To make sure that your case yields the fair and just outcome you deserve, reach out to the diligent South Florida paternity attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our attorneys have been providing clients with effective representation for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

How Your Constitutional Right to ‘Due Process of Law’ Can Affect Your Florida Family Law Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 12, 2018

The Constitutional Right of Due Process of Law and Your Florida Annulment Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 7, 2017