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This paternity case involved an unmarried mother and an unmarried father in Hillsborough County, Florida. This litigation started when the child was 16 months old. The parties were initially able to settle matters involving their personal property. However, disputes about the child continued for many years. After an August 2008 hearing, the trial court entered a temporary order awarding majority time-sharing to the father. The remaining issues were referred to a general magistrate. The general magistrate did not conduct a hearing on these issues for two years. One of the parents objected, and the reviewing court did not issue an order for three more years. The mother objected to this ruling and the court did not rule on the mother’s objections for another two years.

The father was then found in contempt of court for violating the temporary timesharing order. In the contempt order, the father lost his majority timesharing with the child. The court granted a custody modification and awarded the mother equal timesharing. The father was also admonished not to exercise sole parental responsibility and was ordered not to engage in conduct that hindered effective co-parenting.

The Court of Appeal ruled that trial courts in Florida cannot modify custody orders as a sanction for contempt of court. Motions for contempt are filed to enforce the provisions contained in parenting plans contained in court orders. Trial courts are prohibited from modifying custody provisions as a sanction for a party’s contempt of court. The reason for this is that the penalty of changing custody does not compel compliance. Instead, it punishes the child for the parent’s misconduct. The Florida Court of Appeal ruled that the better course of action is to grant additional visitation or make-up visitation. The Court held that a trial court may not sanction a parent by reducing his or her timesharing. This sanction is not permitted as a matter of law in the State of Florida. Accordingly, the trial court’s order was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court.

Alimony – Standard of Review of Trial Court’s Rulings in Florida

Trial Court’s Decision on whether to award permanent alimony is subject to an abuse of discretion standard of review. “‘A trial court’s decision on whether to award permanent periodic alimony is subject to an abuse of discretion standard of review.’ Hornyak v. Hornyak, 48 So. 3d 858, 861 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010); see Mondello v. Torres, 47 So. 3d 389, 396 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010) (noting that “the nature and amount of an award of alimony is a matter committed to the sound discretion of the trial court” (citation, internal quotation marks, and alteration omitted)); § 61.08(2), Fla. Stat. (2009). Beasley v. Beasley

A final judgment awarding alimony and child support creates a presumption that the payor has the ability to pay. The payor bears the burden of proof to demonstrate that the payor cannot pay. “The final judgment of support created a presumption that the father had the ability to pay child support and to purge himself of any subsequent contempt. See § 61.14(5)(a), Fla. Stat. (2010) (“If the obligor subsequently fails to pay alimony or support and a contempt hearing is held, the original order of the court creates a presumption that the obligor has the present ability to pay the alimony or support and to purge himself or herself from the contempt.”). The father did not appear at the contempt hearing and, therefore, did not show that he lacked the ability to purge himself of the contempt within a reasonable time. See id. (“At the contempt hearing, the obligor shall have the burden of proof to show that he or she lacks the ability to purge himself or herself from the contempt.”). Hernandez v. Hernandez 

In awarding alimony, a trial court must make findings of fact for each factor, even if alimony is denied. “Here, the court simply denied the Former Wife’s request for alimony because the Former Husband was going to make an equalizing payment and this was a short-term marriage. However, the trial court did not address all of the appropriate factors required by the 2009 statute.” Witt v. Witt. 

The remedies employed by the trial court should be viewed as a whole to determine whether they accomplish equity between the parties. “A trial court has broad discretion in determining which remedy to apply to accomplish equity between the parties in a dissolution proceeding. See Canakaris v. Canakaris, 382 So. 2d 1197, 1202 (Fla. 1980). Such remedies include lump sum alimony, permanent periodic alimony, rehabilitative alimony, child support, special equity in property and the award of exclusive possession of property. Id. at 1202. In reviewing an order of dissolution, the remedies employed by the judge to accomplish equity between the parties should be reviewed as a whole since they are ‘interrelated’ and ‘part of one overall scheme.’ Id.” Sellers v. Sellers

Once a party is ordered to make an equitable distribution of funds, even if the value of those funds is diminished by market conditions, the dollar amount that is required to be distributed will not be diminished. “Even if Former Wife’s half of the funds diminished due to market conditions, she was still required to pay Former Husband one-half of the investments as of November 2007. If she was unable to pay that one-half from her portion of the funds, she was to use other funds to ensure he still received the same amount he was owed years ago.” Shinitzky v. Shinitzky

(ix) An award of rehabilitative alimony must provide an end date for the payments. “Although the final judgment awards the Former Wife $3500 a month as rehabilitative alimony and states that the purpose was for the Former Wife to complete her education, the trial court did not provide an end date for the payments. The Former Husband argues that such an open-ended award is erroneous, and we agree. Draulans v. Draulans 

If the obligor fails to demonstrate his or her income during the retroactive period, the Court shall apply the current child support guidelines to calculate retroactive child support payments. “In addition, the ALJ erred in using Finch’s current monthly income to compute the retroactive support obligation. The use of current income is permissible when the obligor fails to demonstrate his or her actual income during the retroactive period. See § 61.30(17)(a), Fla. Stat. (2011) (providing that the ‘[f]ailure of the obligor to… demon­strate [his or her actual income] shall result in the court using the obligor’s income at the time of the hearing in computing child support for the retroactive period’).” Finch v. Dep’t of Revenue o/b/o John-Jules 

Child Custody & Visitation – Exposure to the Religious Practices of Both Parents in Florida Children may be exposed to the religious practices of both parents. “The parties disagree regarding the religious upbringing of the children. The mother wishes to raise the children in the Catholic faith, which is inconsistent with the father’s beliefs, or according to the mother, his lack thereof. Without a showing of harm to the children, the court should not infringe on either parent’s free exercise of his or her religious beliefs. Mesa v. Mesa, 652 So. 2d 456,457 (Fla. 4th DCA 1995). The court should not preclude either party from exposing the children to his or her religious practices absent a clear, affirmative showing that the religious activities are harmful to the children.” Winters v. Brown

Alimony – Unallocated Alimony in Florida

An unallocated/undifferentiated award must differentiate between child support and alimony so that a reviewing court can determine if the support guidelines were followed. “A support award that fails to differentiate between child support and alimony is improper because it renders the appellate court unable to determine whether the trial court applied the statutory child support guidelines set forth in section 61.30. Blum v. Blum, 769 So. 2d 1142, 1143 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000). Those guidelines must be applied, even for temporary support purposes. Burkhart v. Burkhart, 620 So. 2d 225, 226 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993).” Nilsen v. Nilsen