Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce

Several issues regarding alimony, child support, equitable distribution and a parenting plan were disputed in a Florida appellate case ruled on earlier this year. In the case Walker v. Walker, 2D17-4575 (Fla. 2d DCA May 31, 2019), both the former husband and the former wife disputed major portions of their final judgment of divorce, and asked the appellate court to reverse ruling on key issues.

The most notable points of contention between the parties involved the parenting plan and equitable distribution. Among other issues, the former husband appealed (1) the trial court’s decision to limit his timesharing based on his living arrangements; (2) the trial court’s treatment of the children’s extracurricular activities; (3) transportation arrangements for timesharing; and (4) the trial court’s failure to assign the mortgage interest deduction to either party. The former wife appealed (1) the sale of the marital residence; (2) the lack of an award of life insurance; (3) the trial court’s award of child support only until the parties’ children turned 18; and (4) the trial court’s denial of her request for ultimate decision-making authority over the children.

Regarding the former husband’s argument that the trial court erred in limiting his timesharing based on his living arrangements, the appellate court agreed with him and reversed. The court held “In [Martinez v. Abinader, 37 So. 3d 944 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010)], this court held that the trial court erred ‘by equating the child's 'environment,' as referenced in section 61.13(3)(d) . . . with the physical structure where the child lived.’ As in Martinez, the trial court used an incorrect standard in deciding timesharing. Thus, we reverse this provision of the final judgment for reconsideration in accordance with the factors outlined in section 61.13.”

Next, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s rulings on extracurricular activities and transportation to effectuate timesharing. The trial court ruled either party could enroll the children in activities without the consent of the other parent and that each parent would be required to pay 50% of such activities. The appellate court held this to be error and and abuse of discretion. Turning to transportation arrangements, the trial court ordered that the former husband be responsible for 100% of the same. The appellate court found this to be error holding “‘[T]he expenses of visitation are part of the parties' childrearing expenses that must be addressed as part of the parties' child support obligations.’ Perez v. Fay, 160 So. 3d 459, 466 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015); see also Hindle v. Fuith, 33 So. 3d 782, 786-87 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010) ("Child support guidelines provide that transportation expenses, like other childrearing costs, should be shared by the parents in accordance with their financial means.").”

The court also sided with the former husband on the mortgage interest deduction. The court held, “The former husband contends that he is entitled to an interest deduction because he paid the mortgage on the marital residence from February 2016 through October 2017. The former wife concedes that the trial court should have addressed the mortgage interest deduction; however, she does not agree the deduction should have been awarded to the former husband. On remand, the trial court shall address this issue and make the requisite specific findings.”

Turning to the issues raised by the former wife, the appellate court agreed with her on reversing the issues of life insurance and child support, but upheld the trial court’s decisions on the sale of the marital residence and parental responsibility. For the life insurance, the appellate court held, “The record reveals that the former husband not only has a life insurance policy in effect through his employer, but also that he pays for additional life insurance. The former husband testified that although the former wife is currently the beneficiary of the policy, he would like to replace her as beneficiary with a friend. There was no testimony that the former husband cannot afford the insurance or that there is some safeguard to ensure the funds go to his children in the event of his death. These circumstances, especially in light of the long-term duration of the marriage and the former wife's need for support, provide a basis for the court to require the former husband to have insurance for the benefit of the former wife, yet the final judgment is silent on her request. On remand, the trial court shall address the wife's request regarding life insurance and make specific findings in support of its decision to either grant or deny the request.” With regard to the child support, the court held it was error for the trial court to fail to award support until the children graduated from high school as is allowed by the Florida Statutes.

Regarding the sale of the marital residence, the former wife took the position that it was error for the court to fail to consider the best interest of the children in ordering a sale of the marital residence. The appellate court disagreed, holding, “‘As a general rule, a trial court should award the primary residential parent exclusive use and possession of the marital residence until the youngest child reaches majority or is emancipated, or the primary residential parent remarries, unless there are special circumstances.’ Coristine v. Coristine, 53 So. 3d 1204, 1204 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011). 'Special circumstances' exist where the parties' incomes are inadequate to meet their debts, obligations, and normal living expenses, as well as the expenses of maintaining the marital residence." Id. at 1205. Based on the testimony at trial and the parties' limited assets, we cannot say the trial court abused its discretion in finding that the parties do not have a sufficient, combined income to meet their obligations and still maintain the marital residence. Thus, we affirm the trial court on this issue.”

Finally, the appellate court rejected the former wife’s contention that the trial court erred in failing to award her ultimate decision-making authority. The appellate court held, “Shared parental responsibility contemplates that major decisions affecting the welfare of a child are to be made after both parents confer and reach an agreement. Cranney v. Cranney, 206 So. 3d 162, 164 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016). By awarding one parent ultimate decision-making authority on issues affecting the children, the trial court essentially nullifies the award of shared parental responsibility. See id. It is clear from the testimony at trial that the parties have an acrimonious relationship. In fact, both parties requested ultimate decision-making authority. However, we cannot conclude on this record that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to award the former wife ultimate decision-making authority.”

A Florida divorce can sometimes be a minefield of potential issues. This is why it is important to consult with a Miami divorce lawyer before or while your case is pending to understand your rights and remedies.