Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce 

A recent appellate case in which child support, equitable distribution and attorneys’ fees were appealed sheds light on interesting issues that may arise when a final judgment is entered. The case Mattison v. Mattison, 5D18-304 (Fla. 5th DCA March 8, 2019) involved a less than three-year marriage with two minor children.

The former husband appealed child support on the basis that the court over-imputed income to him by not making findings consistent with Florida Statute Chp. 61.30. The evidence showed that before trial, the former husband was involuntarily laid off from his job. He then started a business that employed two other parties. Using evidence of a $7,200 payment due from a client of the business, the trial court  multiplied this figure by 12 to impute former husband’s annual income. The appellate court reversed this decision, holding it was error for the trial court to fail to take into account business expenses incurred by the former husband. By failing to do so, the former husband’s gross income was used to calculate child support rather than his reduced net income. Further, where the trial court allocated extra expenses for the children between the parties 50-50, the appellate court found this to be error where the child support guidelines did not support such as allocation. Without a “logically established rationale” contained in the final judgment for the deviation from the percentages in the child support guidelines, the appellate court reversed.

As to child support arrearages, the appellate court found it to be error that pre and post-judgment interest were not awarded to the former husband. The appellate court further held, “Third, in light of Former Wife's income and the interest on the arrearage balance now to be included on remand, the repayment of arrearages at the rate of $50 per month must also be revisited. The present $50 per month arrearage payment (computing to $600 per year) will barely pay the annual interest accruing on the present arrearage balance. On remand, the trial court should set a monthly arrearage payment that is both consistent with Former Wife's ability to pay and satisfies the arrearages in a more expeditious fashion.”

As to equitable distribution, the appellate court held it was error for the trial court to assign to the former husband the value of accounts that had been spent during the pending litigation without a finding of misconduct on his part. Furthermore, as to the marital home, the court found “The trial court distributed the marital home to Former Wife based upon the parties' agreement. The court valued the home as of October 28, 2015, the date Former Wife filed her petition, to be $275,000, subject to a mortgage balance of $221,760, making the parties' shared equity in the home $53,240.4 Former Wife has resided in the home since the parties separated and, by the time of trial, as found by the court, she had subsequently incurred and paid $36,782.02 in mortgage, tax, and insurance expenses on the home, for which she claimed deductions (for mortgage interest and taxes) on her tax returns that were received into evidence. Former Wife also presented evidence that just prior to trial, the fair market value of the house had appreciated to $285,000.”

The trial court awarded a credit to the former wife for her mortgage, tax and insurance payments and then reduced the sum by $21,000 for what it determined to be a reasonable value for the rental of the home. On appeal, the former husband argued “the court erred in conflating these two methods for calculating his one-half equity interest in the marital home. He asserts that he is entitled to either his one-half share of the equity in the home as of the date that the court valued this asset (filing date) without any reduction resulting from Former Wife's mortgage, taxes, and insurance payments on the home post-separation or, alternatively, one-half of the equity in the home based upon the home's appreciated value at the time of trial and the reduced mortgage balance, less one-half of the net amount of credits to Former Wife for her post-separation mortgage, taxes, and insurance payments (reduced by the reasonable rental value of the home as determined by the court). Former Husband contends that the present ruling effectively results in him reimbursing Former Wife for one-half of her mortgage, taxes, and insurance payments on the home while she reaps 100% of the benefits from the appreciation in the value of the home and the reduced mortgage loan balance, plus any tax benefits from claiming the entire deductions for mortgage interest and taxes on her personal income tax returns.” The appellate court agreed with the former husband, ordering that “on remand, because the trial court has expressly elected to use the October 28, 2015 date for valuation of marital assets, the trial court is directed to award Former Husband the $26,620 that it determined was his one-half equity in the marital home as of that date.”

The case was also remanded for the trial court to reconsider the former husband’s request for attorneys’ fees and costs since his income and the equitable distribution scheme needed to be recalculated. If you are facing similar issues in your Florida divorce, contact a Miami divorce lawyer to go over your next best options. A consultation is the best place to start.