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What Happens if Your Florida Trial Court Judge Doesn’t Accept Your Mediated Marital Settlement Agreement?

You may think that your family law case is simple and straightforward, so much so that you don’t believe you need an experienced Miami family law attorney to provide you with legal representation. The truth is, though, that any case can come with profoundly unexpected twists and turns and, if that happens to you, you need someone who knows exactly what to do. If, for example, your trial judge oversteps his/her legal bounds, your knowledgeable Miami family law attorney can guide you through your options to get you to the outcome you deserve.

A recent case originating from outside Jacksonville was an example of this. Former spouses M.W. and R.S. engaged in years of protracted litigation. In early 2017, the couple attended court-ordered mediation. The mediation took nine hours but, at the end of it, the spouses had come to a resolution on all of the disputed issues they had. The agreement that the spouses negotiated was put down on paper, which spanned 16 pages. It included terms related to parental responsibility, timesharing, child support, property division, insurance and tax exemptions. Both spouses initialed each and every page of the agreement

This sounds exactly like the way that the process should work, and the reaching of an appropriate endpoint, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, cases are not always as straightforward as they should be. During what was supposed to have been a five-minute status conference, the husband’s attorney allegedly presented the agreement to the judge for approval. (Neither the wife nor her attorney attended this hearing.) Instead of merely signing off, the judge made substantial changes. The parties had agreed that the wife would have sole parental responsibility of the pair’s two children; the judge awarded shared parental responsibility. The spouses agreed that the wife would be entitled to take tax exemptions for both children; the judge awarded one exemption to each spouse.

The wife, through her attorney, appealed and was able to obtain a reversal of the judge’s ruling. A trial judge in his/her discretion, is free to accept and approve a couple’s marital settlement agreement, or to reject it, when that couple has minor children (as this pair did.) Judges are required to review agreement terms related to parental responsibility, timesharing and child support to ensure that they are in the best interest of the children. If, however, the judge rejects the agreement, the judge’s discretion does not allow him/her simply to make wholesale edits to the agreements and then enter that modified agreement, all without a full hearing. Once a judge, in his/her discretion, decides to reject a marital settlement agreement, the constitutional right of due process requires the judge to schedule the case for an evidentiary hearing. Due process requires that, if issues remain unresolved by settlement, then the parties have the right to “be heard” by the court, which means putting on evidence and making arguments.

Miami family law attorney Sara Saba is here to help you with all of your Florida family law issues. Attorney Saba has been providing effective representation for her clients for more than 13 years, and 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:

Florida Appeals Court Reverses Lower Court Ruling that Forced Two Divorcing Spouses to Remain in Business Together, Miami Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 15, 2018

Contempt of Court, Due Process of Law, and Child Custody/Timesharing Cases in South Florida, Miami Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 4, 2018