Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce

When a non-party to a Florida divorce is subpoenaed to provide information relevant to the case, the non-party usually must comply. However, if the non-party objects, a hearing should be held to determine if the objection is valid and/or whether the scope of the subpoena should be more limited.

In the case Phillips v. Phillips, et. al., 2D18-1025 (Fla. 2d DCA February 20, 2019), the appellate court considered a petition from the wife in an ongoing Florida divorce case which challenged the lower court’s decision to sustain objections from non-parties regarding production of documents related to the husband’s receipt of income from three trusts. The wife issued subpoenas to three trusts for records concerning income the husband was receiving from those trusts but was not reported on his financial affidavit. The trial court had previously ordered the trust to produce records which showed the husband was receiving disbursements. In anticipation of a hearing on her motion for temporary attorneys’ fees, alimony and child support, the wife sought updated records from the trust regarding disbursements to the husband.

The trust objected to this request, arguing the information was confidential and irrelevant. At a hearing on the objection, the husband stated he had the ability to pay any amount the court ordered for support and attorneys’ fees. Based on this representation, the trial court granted the trusts’ requests to quash the subpoenas (therefore the trusts were not obligated to produce the requested information). The wife appealed by filing a petition for writ of certiorari with the appellate court.

In granting the wife’s petition, the appellate court held “Here, the Wife sought to obtain information from the Trusts about their disbursements to and on behalf of the Husband in an effort to present evidence concerning the parties' respective financial resources, the Wife's ability to retain competent counsel, and the Husband's ability to pay temporary support. The Wife asserted that there was evidence that the Husband was receiving disbursements both directly and on his behalf from the Trusts that were not reflected on his financial affidavit, and she proffered some limited evidence on this issue at the hearing on the motions to quash. In light of these facts, absent the Wife being able to obtain additional documents and records from the Trusts, she would be precluded from carrying her burden to establish the extent of the parties' respective financial resources and the trial court would be denied the evidence it needs to make the findings required of it by statute. The Husband's stipulation can neither dispense with the trial court's statutory obligation to make findings of fact concerning the parties' financial resources nor trump the Wife's right to the financial discovery necessary to prove her case. Therefore, the trial court's order that denied the Wife the ability to obtain this relevant and necessary evidence constituted a departure from the essential requirements of the law.”

The appellate court further held, “the Husband's decision to inform the court that he could provide any amount of temporary support did not provide the court with the information it needed to discharge its statutory obligation to determine the amount of temporary support that would be reasonable given the parties' financial resources. Therefore, the Husband's stipulation was insufficient to excuse the Trusts from producing the requested records.” If you need assistance in your Florida divorce with a similar issue, contact a Miami family law attorney to go over your next best steps.