You probably already knew that the outcome of your family law case can be affected by the state in which the case is litigated, as another state’s laws may be different from those of Florida. But you may not have known that the outcome of your case can differ based on where it’s litigated within Florida. A case heard in Broward County might conceivably have a different outcome than if it were heard in Orange County, due a difference of opinion between the two different District Courts of Appeal (the Fourth and the Fifth, respectively) whose rulings control in those counties. This is just one more example of the many nuances of the law and just one more reason why you can benefit from having a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney on your side.
Very recently, the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland made an important new ruling. In 2019, a trial court in Pasco County modified two parents’ parenting plan, switching from majority timesharing with the mother to majority timesharing with the father.
In her appeal, the mother argued that the trial judge made a critical mistake in failing to give her specific instructions on what steps she must complete in order to regain majority timesharing. In the past, the Second District court had said that, “when a trial court denies or restricts a parent’s time-sharing with his or her child, it must specify steps for the parent to take in order to regain meaningful time-sharing.” In D.M. and B.M.’s case, the court made a significant change to that rule, stating that the decision to include or forego stating such instructions is a matter of judicial discretion, so failing to put them in an order is not necessarily a legal error.
This new precedent governs parenting plan modification cases in several areas, including the Tampa Bay area and Southwest Florida. In the Fifth District, which covers portions of Central Florida, including Greater Orlando, the court has said that judges are forbidden from including such instructions “beyond the express provisions of the statute.” Here in South Florida, the Third and Fourth District courts say something very different. The rule in these districts is that a trial judge must include those specific steps for regaining majority timesharing in order for a parenting plan modification to be legally valid.
So, you may ask… what does all that mean for me?
That’s probably a lot to digest and may seem confusing. Perhaps the big thing to focus upon is that different District Courts are allowed to reach different results, and that means differences of law across different regions of the state. Litigate in Fort Lauderdale, and the instructions are required. Litigate in Fort Myers, it’s the judge’s choice. Litigate in Orlando and those instructions are largely forbidden.
While your case may not be a parenting plan modification issue, cases such as these show how these distinctions can arise. These distinctions between districts matter because you may potentially have the option of selecting from more than one county in which to pursue your case. Depending on the facts of your case, the law in Florida may recognize multiple different counties as being proper venues for your case’s resolution. A difference across different District Courts can mean that one county might be more favorable for you to litigate your case versus litigating in another. When that happens, it is important to possess that knowledge so that you can analyze and pick the place most advantageous for your case.
Facts are almost always critical in a family law case, but they’re not the only key to success. Issues of law and procedure also have the potential to make all the difference between a successful outcome and an unfavorable one. To make sure you have on your side the legal knowledge your case needs, count on the experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A., for knowledgeable and effective advocacy upon which you can confidently rely. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation today.