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How a Trial Judge’s Lack of ‘Independent Decision-Making’ Allowed a Florida Husband to Get a Reversal in His Divorce Case

In any legal action, particularly something as personal as a family law case, you (as a party) hope and expect to receive a fair hearing from the court. So, what can you do if after the conclusion of your case you receive a final judgment that seems to indicate that your judge was less than adequately impartial or independent in his/her decision-making? Depending on the specific flaws in your judgment, you may have options. At many steps in the process, you may have avenues for seeking relief. These issues point out how it can help to have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side who understands in great detail all of the possibilities that may exist to allow you to get justice.

The case of a husband named G.T. was an example of such a scenario. To better understand what happened in G.T.’s divorce, it is helpful to walk through the steps of a contested divorce. The court will hold a trial. Each spouse will receive the opportunity to present proof and witnesses, and to cross-examine the other spouse’s witnesses. Once the trial is over, a final judgment of dissolution of marriage must be entered by the court. It is not uncommon for one of the spouse’s attorneys to draft a proposed final judgment for the judge to review and sign.

Obviously, each spouse’s attorney is a zealous advocate for her client and will draft a proposed final judgment that includes findings of fact and conclusions of law that favor her client. The judge, typically, will use portions of what the attorney has written, discard others, and insert additional language that the judge created independently.

In G.T.’s case, the wife’s attorney drafted the proposed final judgment. The document was 65 pages long. The final judgment entered by the court was also 65 pages long and was, word-for-word, what the wife’s lawyer had composed in the proposed final judgment. If you are in the shoes of the husband, this may frustrate you greatly. That fact alone isn’t enough to prove that the trial judge failed to use the sort of “independent decision-making” required by the law and get the judgment thrown out on appeal. You need something more.

Fortunately for G.T., he had that “something more.” Generally, this can include evidence of a pronouncement the judge made in court that ran contrary to what was in the final judgment document, something that is contrary to a stipulation made in court or something that is an obvious factual or legal error. For example, in a similar 2010 case, the court in that appeal also found a lack of independent decision-making by the trial court. One of the key pieces of evidence was that the husband had stipulated at trial that he cashed a $1,400 refund check that actually was intended for the wife. In that case’s final judgment, there was not mention of the $1,400 at all.

Enough of these types of proof can potentially be enough to persuade the appeals court that the judge in your case simply “signed off” on the proposed judgment the attorney submitted. That was what G.T. argued, and what the appeals court found in granting his appeal.

Whether you are contesting an issue related to alimony, equitable distribution or some other family law issue, Miami family law attorney Sara Saba is here to help. Attorney Saba has been providing effective representation for her clients for more than 13 years. Our team is dedicated solely to meeting your family law needs. Contact us online or by calling (305) 450-8009 to schedule your consultation. Hablamos Español.

More blog posts:

When Can an Equitable Distribution Be an Unequal Distribution of Marital Assets in a Florida Divorce?, Miami Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 30, 2018

How Procedural Pitfalls Can Ensnare Your South Florida Family Law Case, Miami Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 1, 2018