Can a Judge Rule on My Paternity Case Without First Hearing All of the Evidence?
In any paternity or related family law dispute, the parties have the same right to due process as any other litigants who need to resolve their differences in court. For example, each side has the right to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses called by the other party. And while an amicable solution is often more desirable than a contested trial, it is not okay for judges to take shortcuts without the consent of all parties to “encourage” a quicker resolution.
Appeals Court: Trial Judge Violated Father’s Due Process Rights
For example, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal recently reversed a trial court’s ruling in a paternity case because the trial judge failed to respect the father’s due process rights.
The father and mother in this case are unmarried. The mother gave birth to a son in 2010. The father subsequently held the child out as his own, and as the Third District noted in its opinion, it was “recognized by all concerned” that he was, in fact, the child’s natural father.
Although the mother and father initially followed an informal agreement regarding child support and visitation, the relationship broke down around 2017. The father then filed a petition in circuit court to legally establish his paternity. The mother did not dispute paternity, but she filed her own counter-claim with respect to additional issues, including child support, parental responsibility, and time-sharing.
The trial court ordered mediation. When the father failed to show up for the mediation, the trial judge struck his petition and scheduled a final hearing on the mother’s counter-petition. At the hearing, the judge made what the appeals court described as a “valiant, yet unsuccessful” final attempt to encourage mediation.
The father appeared at the hearing without an attorney to assist or advise him. The mother’s attorney then made an “informal proffer” of the substance of the mother’s case. In other words, the attorney presented arguments rather than the actual evidence. The father also addressed the court informally, i.e., he was never sworn as a witness. Based on these informal submissions, the trial court proceeded to issue a final judgment on the outstanding parenting issues.
The Third District held this was inappropriate and granted the father’s appeal. In any court proceeding, a party has the right to cross-examine evidence. And the “argument or proffer of counsel, not rendered under oath, absent a clear stipulation, does not constitute admissible evidence.” It was therefore wrong for the trial court to base its decision solely on the representations of the mother’s attorney. While the trial court may have been trying to move things along, the appeals court noted the father “repeatedly expressed his vehement disagreement with the characterization of the proffered evidence and the informal procedure employed by the trial court at the final hearing.”
Speak with a Boca Raton Paternity Lawyer Today
Paternity cases involve important questions of law, and all parents deserve the right to their day in court. An experienced Boca Raton paternity attorney can help ensure that happens. Contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, at 561-468-7788 to schedule a free initial consultation with a paternity lawyer today who can advise you of your rights.