Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce

In order to save money, some divorcing couples decide to go to a notary to have that notary fill out templates for divorce case documents. This may work in cases in which there are no children, no property and no financial support issues, but since a notary cannot give legal advice (unless the notary is also a lawyer), depending on one may cost you a lot more than you bargained for. In the case Rodriguez v. Roca, 3D17-1746 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018), the parties ended up in what was probably costly litigation after completing a marital settlement agreement with a notary. 

The parties went to a notary to resolve their divorce issues which included division of property and debt, child support, a Florida parenting plan and alimony. The notary apparently assisted the parties in filling out the standard marital settlement agreement template provided by the self-help division of the courts. Ultimately, the parties signed an agreement which resolved these issues and stated no alimony would be awarded. 

At a hearing on the wife's motion to vacate the agreement, the notary who assisted the parties testified she did not speak English well but she could read and write it well. The notary stated that she translated the English court forms into Spanish for the parties so that they could better understand. The notary prepared the marital settlement agreement and notarized each party's signature on the document. The wife offered testimony that at the time the marital settlement agreement was filed, she notified the clerk that she did not agree with the "no alimony" provision. The clerk allegedly made a notation regarding this, but ultimately the agreement granting no alimony was filed. 

The trial court made a finding that the notary was practicing law without a license and set aside the marital settlement agreement. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court's order, noting the court did not use the correct analysis in arriving at its decision. In order to determine if a post-marital agreement should be set aside, Florida law requires the court to first establish that it was reached under fraud, duress, coercion, overreaching or misrepresentation and then to determine if the agreement is unreasonable based on the respective financial standings of the parties. Since the trial court did not complete this analysis, the appellate court reversed. 

No doubt the parties spent more money than they probably intended on litigation surrounding the agreement. Having a Miami divorce attorney assist you in the preparation and negotiation of your marital settlement agreement may save you more fees in the long run and may better protect your rights in the event of divorce. Contact one to set a consultation today.