Use of Wrong Basis for Contesting Child Support Modification Costs South Florida Mom

A Miami-Dade mother may be in the position of going from receiving child support to paying support. The mother’s attempt to challenge a court order creating this modification failed as the 3d District Court of Appeal ruled that the procedural basis she used for challenging the modification was incorrect, and, as a result, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the mother’s request.

When J.T. (father) and E.T. (mother) divorced in 2002, they reached a mediated settlement agreement as part of that case. The agreement stated that the husband would pay $444 per month in support for the couple’s one child. A decade later, the father went back to court to modify child support. He was approaching retirement, and his retirement would lead to a substantial reduction in his income. A hearing officer looked at both parents’ evidence and decided that, based upon the new income figures, the mother now owed the father a child support obligation in the amount of $384 per month. The trial judge approved the officer’s findings on March 24, 2013.

The mother did not object to the hearing officer’s findings. She did not ask for a rehearing. She did not appeal the trial judge’s order adopting the hearing officer’s findings. Instead, some 16 days after the trial judge issued her order modifying child support, the mother challenged the decision using Rule of Family Procedure 12.540. The trial judge granted the mother’s Rule 12.540 motion and wiped out the mother’s $384 monthly support obligation.

This time, the father appealed and won. The appeals court concluded that it did not need to address whether or not the mother should have been required to pay the father $384 per month in child support after the father retired. The central issue was that the mother’s method for seeking relief was improper, and the trial court should have dismissed her Rule 12.540 motion for lack of jurisdiction. “The issue is a matter of jurisdiction, and, in the courts of this state, jurisdiction matters,” the court stated.

Why wouldn’t the court have jurisdiction to look at its own order and hear the mother’s argument that the new support determination was wrong? It was because Rule 12.540, by its own terms, only covers situations in which the flaw in the order being challenged was a clerical error, an oversight, or an omission. In this case, the mistake that the mother alleged, and from which she sought a change, was one of legal reasoning. If the trial judge made any mistake when she issued her March 24 order, that mistake could only be classified as one of “sentient ‘legal error’ or ‘judicial error.’” This meant that the alleged flaw in the judge’s modification order was not something that could be corrected using a Rule 12.540 motion.

Success in family court is about more than just having facts on your side. Winning, or in some situations even getting to present your substantial arguments, may depend on making sure that you are in compliance with the relevant court rules. This includes the proper techniques for challenging an unfavorable and misguided decision. To best protect yourself and your family, it is important to have counsel who not only are zealous advocates but also are aware of the rules. The South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have many years of assisting clients with a wide array of family issues in the Florida courts, including child support modifications.

Contact our skilled, diligent attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Court Sends North Florida Father’s Parenting Plan, Child Support Case Back for Recalculation of Parents’ Incomes, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 10, 2015

How Your Back-owed Child Support May Impact Your Modification Request in Florida, Child Support Case Back for Recalculation of Parents’ Incomes, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 11, 2015