Sometimes, there can be varying degrees of success in a court case. In certain situations, you may win a ruling that gives you your “day in court,” but that may not necessarily mean that the path you took to get to that point was the best one. In a recent South Florida case, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that a wife should be allowed to pursue her alimony claim. Although she won that case, the procedurally flawed filing she submitted to the trial court as a pro se litigant likely played a role in causing the case to take a longer and more complicated path than it probably should have.
This case revolved around a couple who married in 2013 outside the United States. Shortly after the marriage began, the husband moved to Florida and, shortly after that, filed for divorce. The wife made the decision to proceed in the case without a lawyer. In retrospect, this decision appears to have maybe caused her some problems.
In contrast to that decision, the wife launched two separate appeals to various rulings made by the trial court. Both times, she was represented by counsel in her appellate cases. Both times, she won on appeal.
In her most recent appeals court case, her issue was a procedural one. The wife asserted that she was entitled to pursue a claim of alimony. The trial judge, however, refused even to consider her alimony arguments. Why? It was because the sole filing she submitted to the trial court was entitled a “reply.” According to the trial court, the wife needed to file a “counter-petition” in order to be allowed to pursue an argument regarding alimony.
Ultimately, the wife won out, and the appeals court ordered that she get an opportunity to pursue her “day in court” on the alimony issue. The appeals court stated that the trial judge should have looked at the substance of the document the wife filed, rather than focusing solely on the title she put on it. The “true nature” of the filing comes down to “its content and not… the label the moving party has used to describe it.”
In this case, the item that the wife submitted was, in terms of its function, both a reply and a counter-petition. It served as a reply because it purported to refute the husband’s assertion that there was no marital property to divide equitably, among other things. It, however, was also a counter-petition. She asked the court to order her husband to pay her “monthly maintenance charges” until remarriage, her rent until remarriage, her medical expenses, and her telephone bill. Clearly, this was, functionally speaking, a counter-petition and a claim for an award of alimony.
While the appeals court’s decision did revive the wife’s alimony case, the tortured path of this case points to the value of capable and knowledgeable counsel. An experienced family law attorney likely would have provided this client with the sort of filings she needed to pursue her rights in a much more efficient and much less time-consuming fashion. She still would have gotten the chance to pursue her alimony claim, and she likely wouldn’t have needed to go from the trial court to the appeals court back to the trial court just to do it.
Experienced Florida family law attorneys can make a world of difference to your case. Your attorney can help you grasp the law, understand the obligations imposed by court procedure rules, and weigh your options when it comes to each element of your case. The hardworking South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have many years’ experience and strive to provide thoughtful and beneficial advice and counsel to all of our clients. To find out how we can help you, contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
How Disability Benefits Can Affect a Florida Alimony Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 18, 2016
Economic Downturn Has Increased Number of Pro Se Divorces in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 12, 2012