The law office of Sandy T. Fox, P.A., recently secured an important victory in the Third District Court of Appeal on behalf of a Miami-Dade divorce client who had received an unfair ruling in the trial court. The court of appeal’s decision overturning that trial court ruling is an important reminder of the profound importance of having the right legal team in your corner. It is also a reminder that, while the law gives trial court judges very broad discretion in making their rulings, there are limits on what they can do.
The divorce case involved, among other things, the issues of alimony, child support and a parenting plan. The wife was a successful attorney who worked for the federal government and made more than $113,000 per year. The husband was a disabled former construction worker who made less than $30,000 per year, all from various forms of government benefits.
The spouses were able to use mediation successfully and resolve the division of their assets and liabilities. They also worked out a parenting plan at that time. When the case went to a hearing before the court, the spouses asked the judge to decide alimony, child support, and to adopt the parenting plan. The judge indicated that the parenting plan would be ratified.
Despite the marriage’s 17-year length, which made it a “long-term” marriage, the judge awarded the husband durational alimony for a period of only seven years, and only in the amount of $200 per month. Additionally, the judge refused to adopt the parenting plan to which both spouses had agreed.
This office was able to demonstrate to the appeals court that the trial judge made several errors. With regard to child support, the judge ordered the parents to share equally any “out of pocket or supplemental” costs for the children. That was one error. Section 61.30(8) of the Florida Statutes makes it clear that these kinds of expenses should be divided “proportionate to the parties’ income.” This case had a wife making roughly $113,000 and a husband making roughly $29,000. Instead of paying 50% of these costs, the husband should have been responsible for a much, much smaller percentage of them.
Absent facts to the contrary, long-term marriage = permanent alimony
The alimony ruling was also problematic. At 17 years, Florida law defines this couple’s marriage as a “long-term” one. That’s important because Florida law says that the default position for alimony arising from a long-term marriage is permanent alimony. Whenever a court orders something less than permanent alimony in a long-term marriage case, the court’s order must provide specific reasons why indefinite alimony was not appropriate in that case.
The appeals court pointed out that this trial judge provided no explanation as to why “permanent periodic alimony is inappropriate.” When this happens, you are entitled to a reversal of the alimony ruling, just as this client received.
Finally, there was the problem of the parenting plan. The parents had worked out a parenting plan agreement before trial. The trial judge indicated in an oral pronouncement that the agreed-to parenting plan would be ratified by the court. However, the court’s final judgment didn’t do that. “The trial court abused its discretion in failing to review and approve the parenting plan as it had orally pronounced twice at the bench trial,” the appeals court declared.
In divorce cases, the system is designed to try to achieve a fair outcome, but, sometimes, errors occur that may require a ruling in a divorce proceeding to be appealed. The best way to protect yourself from being harmed by such a mistake is to ensure you have a knowledgeable and effective advocate on your side. Rely on the experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. to be that sort of diligent and reliable advocate for you. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation today.