Florida Court Assesses Magistrate Authority in Divorce Cases

It is not uncommon for family court hearings to be conducted in front of a magistrate judge in Florida. If parties do not agree with the recommendations set forth in the magistrate’s report they can file exceptions, but in many cases, the magistrate’s recommendations will be adopted regardless. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida case involving the enforcement of a martial settlement agreement, in which an appellate court affirmed an order denying a husband and wife’s exceptions to the report of a magistrate. If you wish to end your marriage or need assistance with another family law matter, it is advisable to seek the counsel of a Miami divorce attorney as soon as possible.

Factual and Procedural History

The wife filed a petition to dissolve the marriage in 2012. They entered into a marital settlement agreement which was filed with the court and their divorce was finalized later that year. In 2017, the wife filed a motion to enforce provisions of the agreement pertaining to health insurance and life insurance. The trial court referred the matter to a magistrate, who conducted two hearings and then issued a report setting forth recommendations. The husband and wife both filed exceptions to the report but the trial court entered an order denying them. The husband and wife both appealed.

Magistrate Authority in Divorce Cases

On appeal, the husband argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to enforce the agreement because the divorce judgment did not expressly incorporate the agreement or order the parties to comply with same. The appellate court rejected this argument noting that the agreement provided that it could be enforced by the court and that courts inherently retain jurisdiction to enforce their orders. The husband further argued that the wife’s action was actually in the nature of a modification and should have been conducted via a supplemental petition. The appellate court rejected this argument as well.

The court noted that the husband agreed to maintain the wife on his law firm’s health insurance or, if he was unable to do so, to obtain and pay for a reasonably equivalent and comparable plan. The wife believed that a reasonably equivalent and comparable plan would be one that allowed her to continue to see her regular doctor as in-network and that had her preferred hospital, also as in-network. The former husband argued the contrary and also argued that he should not be required to pay the additional cost to cover the former wife due to the fact that she was a long-time smoker. Although the general magistrate attempted to order a compromise, the appellate court ruled this was impermissible, as the plain language of the agreement controlled.

Speak to a Seasoned Miami Divorce Attorney

The Florida courts generally have the right to enforce agreements entered into in cases that fall under their jurisdiction, and will sometimes outsource hearings on such agreements to magistrates. If you have questions regarding the enforcement of a marital settlement agreement or any other divorce-related issue, you should contact an attorney. The seasoned Miami divorce attorneys of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A., can advise you of your rights and help you to seek a just outcome.  Our office is in Aventura, and we regularly represent people in family law cases in Miami. You can reach us through our online form or at 800-596-0579 to set up a meeting.

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