Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce

Parties sometimes spend hours, and even days, in mediation trying to resolve their differences. If the parties are able to resolve all issues, and thus avoid trial, relief is usually in the cards for everyone involved since a significant amount of time and money will be saved. But what if after all of that hard work, a judge does not approve the settlement agreement?

In the case Williams v. Sapp, 1S17-1490, the parties spent a reported 9 hours in mediation and entered a 16-page, detailed settlement agreement setting forth resolution of all issues relative to their divorce, including a parenting plan, child support and dependency tax exemptions. The wife concurrently waived notice of the final hearing and requested only that a copy of the final judgment be sent to her. 

At the final hearing, the wife did not appear per her waiver. Instead of entering a final judgment, the judge, dissatisfied with certain provisions of the parties; agreement crossed out and amended certain provisions, specifically those concerning parental responsibility and the dependency tax exemption. The wife received the revised agreement with a final judgment ratifying the agreement and timely appealed the judgment. 

In reversing the trial court's decision, the appellate court noted the court was without authority to modify the parties' agreement, especially without notice to the wife. It is permissible for the court to reject parts of a parenting plan if it finds the provisions are not in the best interest of the parties' children, but it cannot do so without holding an evidentiary hearing and affording both parties the opportunity to be heard. Because the court violated the wife's due process rights, the appellate court reversed and remanded with instructions for the trial court to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine if the stricken provisions should remain out of the agreement. 

Contact a Miami divorce attorney to learn about your rights - a consultation can help you decide the best way to move forward.