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I Had a Major Life Change After My Florida Child Support Hearing But Before the Court Entered its Written Judgment. What Can I Do?

Having representation from a skilled South Florida family law attorney offers many benefits, including being fully prepared to take on whatever unexpected twists or changes occur in your case. Sometimes, the facts of your family law case may be very straightforward and stable but, other times they may turn “on a dime.” In either case, but especially in the latter, having the right legal counsel can help you to respond to these surprise twists in the way that will best benefit your case.

A few areas where sudden changes can have drastic consequences are child support and alimony. If your ex (whom you did not know was even in a relationship) abruptly and unexpectedly gets married, then that sudden change may significantly reduce (or even eliminate) the amount of alimony and/or child support you owe. But… what happens if that sudden change happens after your hearing but before the court enters its final judgment? Can you still seek a recalculation based on that change or has unfortunate timing left you out of luck?

As a recent case from the Tampa area shows, you absolutely still have options that you can – and should – use. In that recent case, the main issue in dispute was child support and imputed income. Imputed income is what happens when the court calculates one spouse or parent’s income at some higher amount than their actual income.

This can happen for multiple reasons. It can happen if a parent has voluntarily chosen not to work (what the law calls “voluntarily unemployed,”) or not work up to his/her capabilities (what the law calls “voluntarily underemployed.”) The latter is designed to prevent parents from dodging child support by, for example, leaving a job as a renowned heart surgeon to take a full-time job as a diving instructor.

It can also happen when you’re getting outside support, such as from a parent or a romantic partner. That was the circumstance in this recent case. The mother, K.E., received “recurring gifts” from her father and received support from her long-term live-in boyfriend. The trial judge decided that each of those two men provided roughly $10,000 of support to the mother, so the court imputed an additional $20,000 to the mother to calculate child support.

After the court hearing and before the entry of a final judgment, dual tragedies struck. Within a few weeks of each other, the father and the boyfriend died. This meant that the judge had orally ruled that K.E. was benefiting from $20,000 of support from two sources that were no longer there.

The mother promptly asked the trial judge to reopen the case. That was not granted. The fact that she made the request promptly was important, though. Had she delayed, that delay by itself could have been enough to prevent her case from being reopened.

What proof you need to get your case reopened

Next, her legal team took her case to the appeals court. That court, while acknowledging that orders to reopen closed cases should be infrequent, concluded that this mother’s facts met the legal requirements for a reopening. In order to get your case reopened, you have to show that reopening the case will not prejudice the other side and that reopening your case “will serve the best interests of justice.”

In K.E.’s case, there was no evidence that the father would be harmed legally by reopening the case and, given the dramatic financial changes that had occurred in the mother’s life after the court hearing, reopening the case would allow for a more just calculation of child support.

Even if you think your divorce, alimony or child support case is a simple thing you can handle on your own, the reality of these types of cases is that they often have hidden pitfalls that can harm those who aren’t properly prepared. Be sure you are equipped to pursue the outcome you and your family need. Reach out to the experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A., for thoughtful advice and effective advocacy to deal with whatever twists and turns your case presents. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

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