Recently Florida has a seen a variety of decisions which have varied or at least qualified a few key areas in family law. Firstly, in relation to the law of delinquency, the case of N.H. v State of Florida was heard by the Florida Supreme Court and it was found that the trial court should have listened to the recommendation of the department of juvenile justice and its findings concerning the best course of action available in relation to sentencing of a juvenile offender. Normally a court must give sufficient reasons for such a deviation and the appeal court found that the reasons given were insufficient. Accordingly, the ruling of the lower court was overturned and the recommendation of the juvenile justice authorities was accepted.
In relation to the law of dependency, the case of B.W. v. Department of Children and Families was heard by the fifth circuit appeals court. A group of three kids had been given a place of safety by the authorities because of a history of violence from the mother. The defendant was later given a summons for the abuse. The children were then in the custody of their father’s family. However, there was another child that did not suffer at the hands of its mother and was therefore allowed to continue to remain in the residence of the mother. The mother then managed to complete the course which was required of her to obtain an order putting the children back in her custody. She was not satisfied with the original court’s decision because it didn’t allow for the return of all of the children. The appeal court made the determination that the overriding principle should be whether it is in the best interests of the children to be returned to the custodial parent and remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of the evidentiary elements of this question.
An interesting case from the Florida first court of appeal on the law of dissolution is Toussaint v. Toussaint 2013. Essentially this case stands for the principle that when a magistrate and a trial court read the same separation agreement and reach opposing conclusions which are both understandable, it should be thought of as ambiguous and evidence should be heard by the lower court in order to try to resolve the ambiguity. The way that this case arose was that a magistrate had read a marital separation agreement which created a property right for the former wife of 50% of the husband’s retirement benefits but the trial court then read the agreement and determined that this was not the case because of there was no explicit statement to this effect and the parol evidence rule therefore applied. On appeal, it was determined that this rule of construction only applies to contracts with a ‘latent ambiguity’ and evidence about the ambiguity should therefore have been taken.