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West v. West

Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

October 27, 2017

KARI CORINNE PHYLLIS WEST, Appellant,
v.
LAWRENCE WEST, III, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Seminole County, John D. Galluzzo, Judge.

          David T. Roberts, of The Roberts Family Law Firm, P.A., Orlando, and Shannon L. Akins, of Law Offices of Shannon L. Akins, P.A., Orlando, for Appellant.

          Nicole Benjamin, of Benjamin Law Firm, PA, Orlando, for Appellee.

          PER CURIAM.

         Wife appeals the marital dissolution final judgment that Husband submitted ex parte, and the trial judge adopted verbatim. It is well known that adopting a proposed final judgment, verbatim, without any modification, especially with no judicial pronouncements of any rulings or findings, is frowned upon. We affirm the portion of the judgment that dissolved the parties' marriage, but reverse the balance in its entirety and remand for entry of an amended final judgment.

         The parties' marriage was dissolved after nearly twelve years. The issues for the one-day trial included alimony, child support, equitable distribution of marital property, creation of a parenting plan with time-sharing, a request for partition of the marital home, and requests for attorney's fees. At the conclusion of trial, the trial judge did not entertain closing arguments, nor did he announce or otherwise indicate any findings or rulings. Rather, he instructed both sides to submit proposed final judgments to the trial judge's assistant, and both sides timely complied.

         For reasons that are not clear, Husband submitted his proposal without providing a copy to Wife; thus, she had no opportunity to review, comment on, or object to any aspect of Husband's proposed judgment. Approximately six weeks post-trial, the trial court adopted Husband's version, including all of its attachments, and entered it without making any changes. The trial court denied Wife's timely filed motion seeking rehearing or a new trial.

         We recognize that in dissolution proceedings it is common for the judge to direct each side to submit its proposed final judgment for consideration. See Merkin v. Merkin, 804 So.2d 595, 598 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002). "Although a trial court may request, as it did in this case, that counsel for both parties submit a proposed final judgment, the court may not adopt the judgment verbatim, blindly, or without making in-court findings." Rykiel v. Rykiel, 795 So.2d 90, 92 (Fla. 5th DCA 2000), quashed on other grounds, 838 So.2d 508 (Fla. 2003). The appearance of impropriety exists when the trial judge adopts verbatim one party's one-sided final judgment, especially where the judge did not orally announce findings or rulings during or at the end of trial. The possible impropriety is that the trial judge may be perceived to have delegated his decision-making authority to Husband's counsel because it does not appear that the judge independently made factual findings and legal conclusions.

         The Florida Supreme Court set forth clear guidelines for dealing with party-submitted proposed judgments in marital dissolutions in Perlow v. Berg-Perlow, 875 So.2d 383, 384 (Fla. 2004):

(1) [T]he trial judge may ask both parties or one party to submit a proposed final judgment;
(2) if proposed final judgments are filed, each party should be given an opportunity to review the other party's proposed final judgment and make objections;
(3) if only one party submits a proposed final judgment, there must be an opportunity for review and objections by the opposing party; and
(4) prior to requesting proposed final judgments, the trial judge should, when possible, indicate on the record the court's ...

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