Family Law Litigants Affected by Appellate Rules Change
On November 6th, the Supreme Court of Florida approved a number of amendments to the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure. The changes were prepared by the Appellate Court Rules Committee, pursuant to Florida Rule of Judicial Administration, and reviewed and recommended by the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar.
The following are the highlights of the new appellate rules, which take effect January 1, 2015, and will have a broad impact on family law attorneys and their clients:
Right of Appeal
Rule 9.130: Family law litigants may now appeal as a matter of right from non-final orders declaring a prenuptial agreement (or other marital agreement) invalid. This is a major change with important practical implications for litigants, since one of the core purposes of such agreements is to reduce or eliminate litigation.
In the past, the inability of either spouse to appeal the validity of a prenuptial agreement before they litigated their dissolution to a final judgment could prove very costly. For instance, it was not uncommon for a spouse to challenge the validity of a marital agreement and “win” in the trial court by getting a determination that the agreement was invalid. In such instance the other spouse was not allowed to appeal the invalidity determination until after the parties fully litigated their dissolution on the merits. If the appellate court later overturned the finding that the prenuptial agreement was invalid, all the money the invalidating spouse spent on fees and costs litigating the case to judgment—perhaps in amounts more than he or she would have received under the prenuptial agreement— would have been spent in vain. Even worse, the invalidating spouse might end up paying prevailing-party attorneys fees to the spouse who did not challenged the agreement.
Now the validity of such agreements can be fully determined at the outset of litigation, a benefit to both parties: the spouse challenging the agreement faces less risk; the spouse seeking to enforce the agreement faces less litigation. Both parties can know where they stand on the critical issue of their agreement’s validity sooner and, hopefully, reach a resolution if the agreement is unenforceable. This is a significant improvement to the prior rules and should allow for a more rapid and less-costly resolution of cases involving prenuptial agreements.
Rule 9.130: The wording in this part of the non-final appeal rule was changed from “that a class should be certified” to “whether to certify a class.” The rule thus makes clear that parties may appeal from an order granting or denying class certification—as opposed to only those orders certifying classes.
Rule 9.020(i): The rule was amended to eliminate the language providing that post-judgment motions are abandoned upon the filing of a notice of appeal. Appeals can thus be held in abeyance until the disposition of post-judgment motions.
This is a major change. Among other things, it means that if a party is unsure whether it has a final judgment that, as a jurisdictional matter, must be appealed by a certain date, the party can safely file the notice of appeal without abandoning any pending motion for post-judgment relief.
Rule 9.210(a)(5): Signature blocks are now expressly excluded from the page-count in briefs.
Tables of Contents
Rule 9.210(b): Tables of contents must include both the headings and the subheadings of the issues on appeal.
Rule 9.210(e): Like initial and answer briefs, reply briefs must now include a table of contents, table of citations, certificate of service, and certificate of compliance.
In adopting these rule changes, the Supreme Court of Florida continued to demonstrate its responsiveness to the evolving field of family law, both on the trial and appellate levels. The amendments should help ease the litigation process for both parties during a time of emotional and financial stress.
Board certified in appellate practice by The Florida Bar, John G. Crabtree is the managing partner at Crabtree & Associates, a Miami-based firm dedicated to representing clients in complex appellate cases. Crabtree served two terms as chair of Florida’s Appellate Court Rules Committee from 2009 to 2011. He is currently vice-chair of the Bar’s Appellate Certification Committee—the committee that tests and determines which lawyers are board-certified specialists. He is the author of “The Record on Appeal – Civil Appeals,” a chapter in the Florida Appellate Practice treatise published by The Florida Bar and has lectured and written on a range of appellate and class action topics. He has also served as a consultant and expert witness in the area of appellate practice. For more information, call 305-361-3770 or visit www.crabtreelaw.com.
South Florida Legal Guide 2015 Edition