Matthew Lane & Associates, P.A.
Palm Beach Gardens, West Palm Beach And Wellington, Florida Offices 561-328-1095

Paternity; Boynton Beach, Florida

Contested paternity proceedings may not be heard by hearing officers because they have no constitutional or statutory authorization to make recommendations regarding custody and visitation. In Depart­ment of Revenue o/b/o Moore v. Williams, the Florida Court of Appeal recently stated: "The Department of Revenue appeals a Final Judgment of Support which deviated from the child support guide­lines by more than five percent based on the findings and recommen­dations of a hearing officer...On behalf of the Mother, the Department filed a petition for support and other relief against the Father...

The matter went before a support enforcement hearing officer, who considered the visitation agreement in calculating the child support obligation...Over the Department's objection, the hearing officer recommended deviating from the child support guidelines by more than five percent based on the agreement, referring to it as a "parenting plan." The trial court adopted the hearing officer's findings and recommendations in the final judgment of support without indicating whether it had approved the visitation agreement. After its motion to vacate was denied, the Department timely appealed...The hearing officer was not authorized to approve the visitation agreement because her authority does not extend to issues of visitation. See Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12.491 (delineating the powers and duties of support enforcement hearing officers without including any authority relating to visitation issues); see also Amendments to the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure, 723 So. 2d208, 212 (Fla. 1998) (concluding that hearing officers are not authorized to hear contested paternity proceedings because they "have no constitutional or statutory authorization to make recommendations regarding custody and visitation"). And, unfortunately, the trial court simply approved the findings and recommendations of the hearing officer without conducting an independent review of the visitation agreement. Nothing in the record indicates that the trial court ever specifically approved the agreement, either before the hearing or in the final judgment."

To speak with a paternity attorney in Boynton Beach, Florida, contact Matthew Lane & Associates, P.A. at (561) 651-7273.

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