Man with a cart full of money to pay for the family law appeal

Appeals 101: How do I Pay my Family Law Appeal Attorney’s Fees?

Family law cases are oftentimes stressful, lengthy, and expensive ordeals that can extend through trial court into the appellate courts.  But the legislature recognizes that such cases are unique, and thus it provides an avenue for seeking some relief from the cost of attorney’s fees for these cases. As part of our continuing Appeals 101 series, here’s the scoop on getting your ex to pay for your family law appeal attorney’s fees — whether you are appealing an equitable distribution, a child custody order, or any other issue related to your marriage dissolution or custody dispute.

Man with a cart full of money to pay for the family law appeal

It can feel like you need a cart full of money to pay for your family law appeal. You may be able to get your ex to cover those costs.

The basis for attorney’s fees in family law appeals

Section 61.16, Florida Statutes, allows a party to ask a court to force the other side to “pay a reasonable amount for attorney’s fees” in some family law cases.  The purpose of the statute “is to ensure that both parties will have a similar ability to obtain competent legal counsel.”  Rosen v. Rosen, 696 So. 2d 697, 699 (Fla. 1997).  “[I]t is not necessary that one spouse be completely unable to pay attorney’s fees for the trial court to require the other spouse to pay those fees.”  Id.

Section 61.16 also applies on appeal.  The statute states “In determining whether to make attorney’s fees and costs awards at the appellate level, the court shall primarily consider the relative financial resources of the parties, unless an appellate party’s cause is deemed to be frivolous.”  However, the court may also consider what are known as the Rosen factors (for the case from whence they came):  “the scope and history of the litigation; the duration of the litigation; the merits of the respective positions; whether litigation is brought or maintained primarily to harass (or whether a defense is raised mainly to frustrate or stall); and the existence and course of prior or pending litigation.”  Rosen v. Rosen, 696 So. 2d 697, 700 (Fla. 1997).

Can I seek attorney’s fees before the appeal is over, or do I have to wait?

Another way family law fees are different is that, rather than having no choice but to wait until the end of the appeal to seek fees, there is a limited avenue for a party to seek fee assistance during the appeal.  Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.600(c)(1) says the trial court has continuing jurisdiction while an appeal is ongoing to enter orders awarding “temporary attorneys’ fees and costs reasonably necessary to prosecute or defend an appeal, or other awards necessary to protect the welfare and rights of any party pending appeal.”  This means that a party can ask the trial court for assistance from the other side to pay for fees as they are being incurred for the appeal.  In practice this procedure can sometimes be problematic, especially when the trial court does not have sufficient time to rule on such a request while the appeal is pending.  See Kasm v. Lynnel, 975 So. 2d 560 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008).

No matter the family law case, or whether a party has sought temporary fees with the trial court, the party that seeks an award of fees for the appeal should timely file a motion for fees with the appellate court under Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.400(b).  Failure to do so may result in waiver of any ability to claim those fees later.  See Rados v. Rados, 791 So. 2d 1130, 1131-32 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001) (“A trial court cannot award appellate attorney’s fees unless the appellate court has authorized such an award.”).  A motion under rule 9.400(b) must be filed no later than the time for service of the reply brief.

How long will I have to wait for an award of attorney’s fees?

Don’t be surprised if the appellate court decides not to ultimately decide your entitlement to fees, instead sending your motion to the trial court.  Unlike trial courts, appellate courts are simply do not have the capability to take evidence.  Evidence may be necessary to determine the parties’ relative financial positions and the other factors discussed above.  Consequently, the appellate court often relies on the trial court to take such evidence and make those determinations for it.  Rados v. Rados, 791 So. 2d 1130 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001) (identifying the many ways that one appellate court handles such motions).

Most importantly, once an appeal is over, the trial court can only consider appellate fees with permission from the appellate court, usually based on a ruling on a timely-filed 9.400(b) motion.  Even if you would otherwise deserve your fees on appeal under the statute or the Rosen factors, the trial court does not have the power to award them for your appellate efforts if the appellate court does not order it to do so. If you are in, or suspect you will be, in a family law appeal, contact us and we can help ensure that any rights you have to fees are properly raised and preserved.

 

Appeals 101: How do I initiate my Florida civil appeal?

The Second District Court of Appeals’ Clerk’s Office is in Lakeland, FL. But you don’t have to visit — you can file your filing fee by mail or online!

Timing of Your Notice of Appeal

In a standard civil case in Florida, one initiates an appeal by (1) filing a notice of appeal and (2) paying the filing fee.  This applies to appeals from both final (see Fla. R. App. P. 9.110) and non-final (see Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(b)) orders.  You have 30 days from the date your ordered is rendered to file your notice (stay tuned for an upcoming Appeals 101 post on what “rendered” means for appellate purposes).

Format of Your Notice of Appeal

The notice is a simple document — it does not contain argument, and it does not have to tell the court why you are appealing. Rather, it contains only basic contents — just enough to let the Court know what you are appealing and by what authority. Specifically, the notice must contain a caption, the name of the court to which the appeal is taken, the date of rendition, and the nature of the order to be reviewed. It is also critical to attach a copy of the order on appeal to the notice. The rules actually contain a sample notice to follow [.pdf].

Filing and Fees for Your Notice of Appeal

So how, and where, do you accomplish these filings?  You go to the court that issued the order you want to appeal (sometimes referred to as the “trial court” or the “lower tribunal”).  That is where you will file your notice of appeal.  As far as fees, you’ll have to pay a fee both to that court, and to the appellate court.  These days, both your notice of appeal and your filing fees to the courts can be paid online.

An example:  You are appealing to the district court of appeal a final order of the circuit court.  You must file your notice of appeal with the circuit court clerk, along with a $100 filing fee.  You may also have to pay other small handling fees, such as a $2 “certification” fee, or credit card fees.  Your notice of appeal will be sent to the district court of appeal.  Upon receipt of the notice, the district court will assign your case a new number, and will often issue an order or notice stating that its filing fee has not been paid.  You then must pay the district court an additional $300. Note that this procedure doesn’t really match up with the rules — before electronic filing, you were supposed to send your check to the circuit court clerk for both filing fees, but the rules haven’t caught up with technology, and the District Court does not take issue with you paying your filing fees after it assigns a case number, so long as you do it quickly. At that point, your appeal is fully initiated.

Filing a Notice of Appeal of a County Court Decision

The process is generally the same for appealing county court orders to the circuit courts, although the amounts of the fees vary slightly.

Filing a Notice of Cross-Appeal

And if someone else has filed a notice of appeal already and you want to file a cross-appeal, you’ll have to pay the appellate court $295.

For more information, look to the rules for final appeals and non-final appeals, and check out some of our other blog posts at flabarappellate.org.

What Happens if My Notice of Appeal is Late?

Be careful, because failing to file the notice of appeal on time will result in dismissal of your appeal for lack of jurisdiction.  A late notice of appeal is not something that can be fixed.  And while the courts are somewhat forgiving if you merely file in the wrong court or don’t pay the filing fee right away, they can still dismiss your appeal before you even get a chance to argue the merits if you don’t straighten out those defects fast.

Don’t Mess Around With Your Notice of Appeal

The rules of appellate procedure can be complicated and intimidating, but we’re here to help. Because the 30 day deadline comes fast, call our office for a consultation at 813-778-5161 if you are thinking of filing an appeal. Day 31 is too late. Count wrong, and it can be too late. Misunderstand rendition, and it can be too late. In fact, because understanding rendition can be tricky — and because your appeal can sometimes be stronger if you file a timely and authorized motion for rehearing, which has a shorter deadline — we recommend you contact appellate counsel within a day or two of learning of the order you want to appeal.

About Appeals 101

This post is part of our continuing Appeals 101 series. Click the link to find all of our posts on the basics of litigating an appeal.

Florida Court’s Jurisdiction Over Out-of-State Party in Domestic Violence Cases

Florida courts may only act if they have personal jurisdiction over the defendant, even in the case of alleged domestic violence. Having family in Florida, visiting Florida on vacation in the past, and sending a spouse and children to visit family in Florida are insufficient contacts to confer personal jurisdiction.  Youssef v. Zaitouni, Case No. 2D17-926 (Fla. 2d DCA Feb. 14, 2018) [.pdf].

When is there personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state resident?

Husband, an Ohio resident, moved through counsel to vacate an injunction entered against him in Florida after his estranged Wife moved to Florida and sought and obtained a domestic violence injunction (DVI) against him.  Husband argued that Florida did not have personal jurisdiction over him because he did not have sufficient contacts with Florida under Florida’s long arm statute, Section 48.193.  The trial court found that family members residing in Florida and past visits were sufficient contacts with Florida to confer jurisdiction.  In the alternative, the trial court invoked its “emergency jurisdiction over the minor children” under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, Sections 61.501-542, Fla. Stat.  (UCCJEA).

The Second District Court of Appeal yesterday reversed the refusal to vacate the injunction, and remanded for dismissal for lack of jurisdiction.  First, the court held that the contacts were not sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction under the long arm statute.  Second, the court found that the UCCJEA governed custody proceedings, and did not create an independent basis for the trial court to exercise personal jurisdiction.

What does this mean for parties seeking domestic violence protection against an out-of-state spouse or alleged abuser?

For the accused party, we recommend you contact a family law attorney right away to discuss your options and determine whether a motion to quash is appropriate in your case.  If you appear in court or respond to the petition without a lawyer, you will likely waive this important defense.

For those seeking protection, we recommend you be prepared to demonstrate the accused’s contacts with the state of Florida.  If you cannot, you should consider instead seeking an injunction in the accused’s home state, and then having that injunction domesticated and enforced in Florida.

But please don’t take legal advice from a blog post.  These cases are complicated, and it is best to consult an attorney with experience in these matters to get advice specific to your unique circumstances.

Dineen Wasylik and Jared Krukar of DPW Legal represented the winning party on appeal. DPW Legal focuses on assisting parties in navigating complicated procedural issue, both on appeal, and by supporting trial counsel.

Many thanks to the trial counsel in this case, Felicia Williams of Father’s Rights Law, P.A.  who did an excellent job of preserving her client’s rights to appeal and to be heard in the proper jurisdiction.  Check out Felicia’s video on what to do if you are served with a domestic violence injunction.