Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Family Law Procedure

A recent appellate case explores an interesting tale of divorce, forgery, reconciliation and then divorce again. On October 31, 2018, the Florida First District Court of Appeal published the case Holt v. Holt, 1D17-3092 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018) in which the husband sought to overturn a 2010 order that he alleged the wife obtained by forging his signature.

The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure allow a party to seek relief from a judgment on certain bases within 1 year from the date a judgment was entered. In this case, the husband sought in 2016 to set aside a 2010 order vacating a final judgment of dissolution of marriage, contending the wife forged his signature on a stipulation to set aside the judgment. The parties agreed to divorce in August 2009. While the divorce case was pending, the husband became incapacitated as an active duty member of the military. Accordingly between 2009 and 2010, the husband was in an out of various hospitals receiving treatment for a traumatic brain injury.

While he was in the hospital, the wife asked him to sign marital settlement agreement which she brought to him. He signed it and because he did not have an attorney, he relied on the wife to keep him updated on the status of the divorce proceedings. Without his knowledge, a final judgment of divorce was entered in January 2010. Two months later, the wife presented to the court a stipulation which appeared to be signed by the husband, the wife and the wife’s attorney setting aside the final judgment. The court signed it, so at this point, the parties were no longer divorced.

In February 2010, the parties reconciled and began living together, but the marriage fell apart again in 2013 when the wife filed for divorce in Maryland. During a 2016 hearing in the Maryland case, the husband learned for the first time that he had been divorced in Florida in 2010 and that a stipulation was subsequently entered reversing the judgment of divorce. The husband then filed a motion in the Florida case under Rule 1.540 to set aside the 2010 order vacating the divorce. After presentation of evidence from a handwriting expert which indicated the wife had forged the husband’s signature, the trial court granted the husband’s motion and set aside the order vacating the divorce, effectively re-entering the 2010 final judgment so that the parties were considered divorced since that date.

The wife appealed, arguing the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the order because the husband challenged it more than one year after the order was entered. Because the plain language of the rule states such action must be brought within one year of the date of the order being challenged, the appellate court agreed with the wife and reversed the trial court’s order. The appellate court held the husband’s appropriate remedy was to instead file an independent action for fraud, separate from the divorce case.

This case presents an interesting set of facts which ultimately show the correct path for a litigant to take who suspects fraud played a part in a case. If you need relief from a judgment, contact a Miami divorce lawyer who can discuss your options during a consultation.