Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Procedure
The word "hearsay" is often thrown around in conversation, but few know what it really means. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. There are certain exceptions to the hearsay rule listed in the Florida statutes, but generally, you cannot offer as evidence in a court proceeding what someone said unless it meets those exceptions and/or the person who made the statement is a party or is there to testify about the statement. The consequences of basing decisions on hearsay is seen in the appellate case Washburn v. Washburn, 211 So.3d 87 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017).
The husband in this case produced his bank statements in accordance with mandatory financial disclosure rules. The wife tried to introduce these bank statements into evidence when the husband objected on the basis that the bank statements and the information reported in them by his bank were hearsay. The court initially sided with the husband on this objection but later admitted the bank statements over the husband's objection.
The bank statements included deposits made two years prior to the hearing for which the husband could not provide a source of payment. Testimony was elicited from the husband regarding his business income, which the court ultimately annualized based on the amounts indicated by the husband. Later, the court amended its judgment to add to the husband's income for purposes of calculating child support the deposits shown on the husband's bank statements for which he could not account. The husband again objected to basing the extra income imputation on the bank statements since they were inadmissible hearsay.
On appeal, the appellate court clarified that just because documents or records are produced as part of mandatory financial disclosure rules, this does not mean those documents are immune from hearsay rules. A party must still show those records are admissible via a hearsay exception or otherwise. Therefore, because the husband's bank records were hearsay and no exception was offered by the wife to admit the same, the records were inadmissible and it was error for the trial court to rely on them to impute extra income to the husband.
This case shows the importance of knowing the rules of evidence and how to use them. Had the husband failed to properly object to the admission of his bank statements and to the court's reliance on them in calculating child support, an extra $2,000+ per month would have been added to his income to determine his child support payment, a result which may have been unjust under the circumstances. A consultation with a Miami family law attorney may help you determine the best way to proceed under similar circumstances.