Dealing with Post-Divorce Litigation in Florida
A divorce case does not really end once a final judgment is entered. There are frequently a number of post-judgment issues that arise which necessitate a return to the courtroom. For example, one former spouse may allege the other is not complying with the terms of the final judgment or marital settlement agreement (MSA).
Appeals Court: Ex-Wife Denied Rights to Due Process, Financial Privacy on Ex-Husband’s Request for Disclosure of Tax Returns
When such allegations are raised, the other spouse has a constitutional right to due process. At a minimum, this includes the right to appear at a hearing before any new orders are entered by the court. Judges should not summarily rule for or against a party without that party having an opportunity to make this case.
A recent decision from the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals, Romero v. Brabham, helps to illustrate this point. This post-divorce action involves a former wife’s failure to comply with the terms of a 2016 MSA. The parties in this case have a minor child. As part of their divorce settlement, they agreed to alternate years in which each parent would separately claim the child as a dependent on their respective federal income tax return.
For 2017, the MSA said the former husband would claim the child. But the former wife claimed the child on her own return that year. She alleged the right to do due so based on the former husband’s purported failure to pay child support. The former husband then went to court, seeking an order holding the wife in violation of the MSA.
A magistrate ordered the former wife to file an amended tax return, removing her claim for the dependency exemption. The magistrate further directed the wife to provide redacted copies of the return to the court clerk and the former husband’s attorney.
Sometime later, the former husband moved to hold the former wife in contempt, alleging she failed to comply with the terms of the orders described above. The former wife, who was not represented by counsel at this point, replied that she had, in fact, filed the amended return. She also requested to appear at a hearing on the former husband’s contempt motion by telephone conference.
Although the former wife received confirmation from the court’s computer system of the telephone conference, the hearing apparently proceeded on the scheduled date without her participation. The former wife said she waited approximately 40 minutes on the phone but was never allowed to connect to the hearing. In her absence, the judge granted the husband’s contempt motion and ordered the former wife to provide a complete copy of her entire amended tax return–including all supporting schedules–to the former husband’s lawyer.
On appeal, the Fourth District held the trial court acted improperly. First, having received confirmation of her request to participate by telephone, the appeals court said the former wife had a “reasonable” expectation she would be allowed to participate in the hearing. The trial court therefore violated the former wife’s right to due process.
Second, the appeals court noted that neither the magistrate’s initial orders nor the former husband’s petition said anything about the former wife disclosing copies of her complete tax return with all accompanying schedules. Under the Florida Constitution, all persons have a right to financial privacy. And since there was no reason the former husband needed to access the entire return–he only needed confirmation the former wife no longer claimed their child as a dependent–that part of the contempt order was invalid.
Speak with a Florida Family Law Attorney Today
It is not unusual for divorced spouses to become embroiled in this type of post-judgment litigation. An experienced Boca Raton divorce lawyer can provide you with advice or representation on any such issue that may arise in your own life. Contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, today at 561-488-7788 to schedule a consultation.