You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.

MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES IN FAMILY LAW

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there were more than 4.8 million visits to emergency rooms for mental, behavioral, and neurodevelopmental disorders as the primary diagnosis in 2017.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there were more than 4.8 million visits to emergency rooms for mental, behavioral, and neurodevelopmental disorders as the primary diagnosis in 2017.[1] In 2015-2016, there were an estimated 38 million visits per year to non-federally employed, office-based providers specializing in psychiatry in the United States.[2] It is estimated that one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness and nearly one in 25 adults in the U.S. live with a serious mental illness.[3] Intentional self-harm was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2016 and 2017.[4] The World Health Organization reports, “The burden of mental disorders continues to grow with significant impacts on health and major social, human rights and economic consequences in all countries of the world.”[5]

Given the prevalence[6] of mental health issues,[7] it is unsurprising that they often play a role in family law[8] cases. A parent’s mental health is one of the factors that a Florida fact finder is required to consider when evaluating “the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family” to establish or modify parental responsibility and create, develop, approve, or modify a parenting plan.[9] A party’s “physical and emotional condition” is one of the factors a Florida fact finder is required to consider when determining a request for alimony or maintenance.[10] A person’s mental competence can affect his or her ability to enter into a contract.[11]

So, how much of a role does a litigant’s mental health play in a family law case? How much should it play? As is often heard in law school classes, the answer is: It depends.

Defining Mental Health

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers the following definition[12] of the term “mental health”:

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

• Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry

• Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse

• Family history of mental health problems

Mental health problems are common, but help is available. People with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely.

There are numerous mental-health disorders recognized by the American Psychiatric Association,[13] including, but not limited to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), eating disorders, internet gaming disorder, schizophrenia, sleep-wake disorders, social communication disorders, and substance-related and addictive disorders.[14] Each disorder has its own unique symptoms;[15] and, while persons must manifest certain symptoms to obtain a diagnosis, symptoms often manifest uniquely in each person experiencing the disorder.[16] The wide breadth of disorders and symptoms have given rise to myths about mental health and mental-health disorders[17] and a resulting poor understanding among the general public of mental-health issues and their impact on society.[18] This creates a great risk of misunderstandings, misconceptions, and myths spilling into family law litigation.

This boils down to a key practice point for family law practitioners: When a client suggests that the client or the opposing party may be experiencing mental-health issues, that should be the beginning of the inquiry and not the end. Just because a party has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder does not automatically translate into that person being violent, unemployable, or unable to parent his or her child.[19] The Florida Rules of Professional Conduct require family law practitioners to provide competent representation to their clients.[20] One of the core duties an attorney owes to his or her client is to “explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.”[21] This should include familiarity with facts about mental-health issues and intervention options, which may be derived from performing research on the mental-health issue, engaging a mental-health professional to assist, or, with the client’s consent, associating with, or recommending, a more qualified attorney.[22] What it should not include is working under assumptions, presumptions, or myths.[23]

There are four core inquiries a family law practitioner should make when evaluating a party’s potential mental-health issue within a family law matter: First, is competency an issue? Second, is the issue relevant to the case? Third, what discovery is appropriate? And fourth, what relief is appropriate? This two-part article addresses each core inquiry. The first part addresses the first inquiry. The second part addresses the final three inquiries.

First Inquiry: Is Competency an Issue?

Florida law recognizes the importance of a person’s ability to understand the transactions and contracts to which he or she is a party.[24] This concept is often litigated in estate matters.[25] Florida law also recognizes the importance for a litigant to be able to understand and actively participate in the legal proceeding to which he or she is a party. This concept is most widely recognized in criminal proceedings.[26] Both these concepts exist in family law as well.

What additional steps should family law practitioners take when a mental-health issue may be affecting a litigant’s competency will depend on whether that litigant is the practitioner’s client or the opposing party.

Guardianship — Florida courts have the inherent power to appoint a guardian ad litem to represent a mentally incompetent litigant or “ward” in pending litigation.[27] Florida law has an entire statutory chapter dedicated to the court’s powers to appoint a representative to act on behalf of a person who has been found wholly or partially incompetent. F.S. Ch. 744 outlines the powers and duties of the court, the guardian(s), and the ward in the event a guardianship may be needed or established. While the details of guardianship are beyond the scope of this article, the family law practitioner should be aware that there are various types of guardianships available including limited, plenary, ad litem, and advocate.[28] A family law practitioner unfamiliar with guardianship laws who believes that a guardian may be needed for his or her client, or may have a guardian involved in the litigation, should engage in the necessary research to obtain competence in the matter or consider consulting with an experienced guardianship attorney.[29]

Competency of a Party and Dissolution of Marriage Proceedings — If a party to a dissolution of marriage proceeding is mentally incompetent, F.S. §61.052(1)(b) prohibits a dissolution of the marriage from occurring for a period of three years from the date of the adjudication of incapacity.[30] Incapacity can be raised in the petition or the responsive pleading.[31] A finding that a party is mentally incompetent may bar a court from granting a dissolution of the marriage for three years.[32] The protection of incompetent persons is a particular duty of the state and the courts;[33] the legislature compels the competent spouse to care for and maintain the incompetent spouse.[34]

Practitioners should note that F.S. §744.3215(4)(c) only permits guardians to initiate a petition for dissolution of marriage for the party or ward when the court has granted the guardian the specific authority to do so.[35] The statute does not limit the guardian’s ability to answer on the party’s or ward’s defense in a dissolution proceeding initiated by an opposing party or participate in a dissolution of marriage proceeding a party or ward previously initiated.[36]

When a Client’s Competency May Be Affected — The basic client-lawyer relationship in Florida is “based on the assumption that the client, when properly advised and assisted, is capable of making decisions about important matters.”[37] Litigants come into court presumptively competent.[38] The presumption of competency may not be true when a client is being affected by a serious mental-health issue.[39]

An important distinction should be made before going further. A client legally disqualified from performing certain acts is not automatically barred from being sufficiently competent to make decisions about other important matters.[40] So long as a client is not entirely unable to express and act in his or her own interest, the attorney can continue to represent the client without appointment of a guardian or guardian ad litem for the client.[41]

When a Florida family law practitioner has concerns about his or her client’s competence, the practitioner should act to protect the client’s interests under a normal client-lawyer relationship to the furthest extent possible.[42] This may be achieved through a regular client-lawyer relationship, acting as the client’s de facto guardian, or seeking to have a legal guardian appointed if the situation is sufficiently extreme.[43] Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.14[44] provides:

(A) Maintenance of Normal Relationship. When a client’s ability to make adequately considered decisions in connection with the representation is impaired, whether because of minority, mental disability, or for some other reason, the lawyer shall, as far as reasonably possible, maintain a normal client-lawyer relationship with the client.

(B) Appointment of a Guardian. A lawyer may seek the appointment of a guardian or take other protective action with respect to a lawyer only when the lawyer reasonably believes that the client cannot adequately act on the client’s own interest.

The practitioner owes the client a duty to express concern to the client if the practitioner has good reason to question the client’s competency.[45] Should the situation so warrant, the practitioner’s duty may include seeking the client’s permission to obtain a judicial determination of competency.[46] If the practitioner believes the client requires a judicial determination of competency or appointment of a guardian, and the client objects, the practitioner may move for leave to withdraw in the manner least prejudicial to the client,[47] or, if withdrawal does not serve the client’s interests and the practitioner wishes to continue, the practitioner should take steps to safeguard the client’s interests, which may include making “prudent decisions” on the client’s behalf.[48] The practitioner may seek a legal guardian’s appointment, even over the client’s objections, if the client cannot adequately act in his or her own interest.[49] A guardian ad litem is required only in the event the client is determined to be incompetent.[50]

It may be necessary to stay a pending family law proceeding or to continue scheduled hearing(s) to properly address a client’s competency.[51] Florida Family Law Rule of Procedure 12.260(b) provides in relevant part, “If a party becomes incapacitated, the court may allow the action to be continued by or against that person’s representative.”[52] However, continuances of a proceeding should be few[53] and cannot be implicitly or explicitly indefinite as the other party is entitled to have his or her day in court.[54]

In the event a guardian has been appointed for a client, first and above all else, the practitioner has a duty and an obligation to the client to treat him or her with attention and respect.[55] Next, the practitioner should ensure that both the practitioner and the client fully understand which rights the client has retained, which rights have been delegated to the guardian, and which rights have been removed and could not be delegated.[56] Lastly, the practitioner should treat the client as his or her “client” to the furthest extent possible, particularly in terms of maintaining communication;[57] however, the practitioner should look to the guardian for decisions on behalf of the client to the extent such decisions are within the guardian’s appointment.[58]

When an Opposing Party’s Competency May Be Affected — There are three best practices for a practitioner if an opposing party’s competency is in question. First, the practitioner should determine if formal incompetency proceedings should be initiated prior to commencing an action for dissolution of marriage[59] or other family law proceeding.[60] An incompetency proceeding will result in either the party being found not to be incompetent or a guardian being appointed to represent the alleged incompetent party’s best interest.[61] This procedure or safeguard helps protect against a subsequent attack on the validity of a final judgment entered in that same proceeding.

Second, if the opposing party’s mental state is even marginally in question, the practitioner should consider taking extra steps to ensure the opposing party receives proper notice of the final hearing.[62] The practitioner should closely adhere to all procedural requirements as to pleading[63] and service of process.[64] The practitioner should be mindful that notice can be given during court appearances for matters to be addressed at future events notwithstanding whether a written notice can be issued.[65] It would also be prudent to make reasonable accommodations in scheduling to ensure the opposing party’s attendance at the hearing.[66]

Third, the practitioner should take extra steps to ensure the opposing party’s competence at the time immediately prior to execution of any settlement agreement;[67] for example, if the opposing party struggles with alcohol or drug addiction, the practitioner should consider taking steps to ensure that party is not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of execution of an agreement. Although clients may be anxious to do so, taking advantage of an opposing party’s questionable competence in obtaining an agreement may work against your client in the long run. As stated in Perper v. Edell, 160 Fla. 477 (Fla. 1948):

If [an] agreement is harsh or oppressive, or is detrimental to the interest of the insane party, it may be disaffirmed in a proper case without placing the party in status quo. Should one party know or have reasonable cause to believe the other to be insane the person non compos mentis may rescind without being required to make restitution. One dealing with a person known to be insane is not entitled to be placed in status quo as a condition precedent to an avoidance of the agreement. This does not mean, however, that there need be no restitution in any case; it merely means that restitution is not a condition precedent. So much of the consideration as remains in the hand of the insane party must be restored by him upon rescission.[68]

The bottom line is that Florida’s rules and laws are written in such a way as to protect incompetent persons from exploitation. Practitioners should employ additional measures to protect their clients’ interests, closely adhere to the rules, and err on the side of caution when the opposing party’s competence is in question.

Conclusion

There are three more core inquiries relating to competency for the practitioner to make: Is the litigant’s competency relevant to the case? What discovery is appropriate? And what relief is appropriate? These inquiries will be explored in the second part of this article to be published in the next edition. Stay tuned.

[1] U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2017 Emergency Department Summary Tables, Table 11, available at https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhamcs/web_tables/2017_ed_web_tables-508.pdf. The 2017 statistics were the most recent available from the CDC at the time of writing.

[2] National Center for Health Statistics, Psychiatry Fact Sheet from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, available at https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/namcs/factsheets/NAMCS_2015_16_Psychiatry-508.pdf. The 2015-2016 statistics were the most recent available at the time of this writing.

[3] National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health By The Numbers, https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers.

[4] Melonie Heron, Ph.D., U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics Reports, Deaths: Leading Causes for 2017, Table C (Vol. 68, No. 6) (June 24, 2019), available at https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr68/nvsr68_06-508.pdf. This was the most recent information available at the time of writing.

[5] World Health Organization, Mental Disorders (Nov. 28, 2019), http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders.

[6] Michael J. Higer, Mental Health: The Issue of Our Time, 92 Fla. B. J. 4 (Apr. 2018). Former Florida Bar President Higer penned the article highlighting the prevalence of mental health within society at large. While describing various initiatives to promote awareness and understanding of mental health within the court systems and society at large, Higer states: “Mental health issues touch every facet of our personal and professional lives from clients we serve; to the lawyers, judges, and colleagues we depend on to provide effective assistance of counsel; to our friends and our family members.…At the very least, it is critical that judges and lawyers are provided with basic knowledge regarding mental illnesses, the mental-health system, and available resources in the community so that they are prepared to make informed decisions when mental-health concerns or issues arise. In addition, a better educated workforce within the justice system will contribute to more effective collaboration with the mental-health system and other community stakeholders.”

[7] There are many phrases used to describe mental-health problems, such as “problem,” “issue,” and “disorder.” The phrase “mental-health issue(s)” is used to generally refer to mental-health experiences that vary from baseline cultural expectations. Precise terminology will be used when describing diagnoses or clinical events.

[8] The phrase “family law” in this case excludes cases under Fla. Stat. Ch. §§39, 744 (2019), and focuses on cases under Fla. Stat. Ch. §§61, 741, 742, 751 (2019).

[9] Fla. Stat. §61.13 (3)(g) (2019).

[10] Fla. Stat. §61.08 (2)(c) (2019).

[11] See generally Robert W. Lee, Mental Illness and the Right to Contract, 72 Fla. B. J. 48 (Dec. 1998).

[12] U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, What is Mental Health?, https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health.

[13] The American Psychiatric Association (APA) hallmark publication, DSM-5, which is used by psychiatrists and psychologists in the U.S. to diagnose patients, has over 20 chapters addressing unique disorders and categories of disorders. APA, DSM-5 Educational Resources, https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm/educational-resources.

[14] Id. For a detailed discussion of substance abuse and its impact on family law cases and the family law profession, see generally John Foster & Alessandra Manes, Addiction and Its Impact on Our Cases and Our Profession, 1-3 Fla. Fam. L. Commentator (Spring/Fall 2019) (three-part series). For a comprehensive overview on addictive disorders and other mental illnesses, see generally Roger A. Goetz, The Disease of Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses, 73 Fla. B. J. 12 (Dec. 1999).

[15] These are called “diagnostic criteria.” APA, From Planning to Publication: Developing DSM-5 (2013), available at https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm/educational-resources/dsm-5-fact-sheets (select link to document).

[16] For example, with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the APA states, “the symptoms of people with ASD will fall on a continuum, with some individuals showing mild symptoms and others having much more severe symptoms.” APA, DSM-5 Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet (2013), https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm/educational-resources/dsm-5-fact-sheets (select link to document).

[17] U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, Mental Health Myths and Facts, https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/mental-health-myths-facts.

[18] U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, MentalHealth.gov, About Us, https://www.mentalhealth.gov/about-us.

[19] It is estimated that only about 3% to 5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness and employers who hire people with mental-health issues report performance on par with or greater than other employees. See note 17.

[20] “A lawyer must provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” Fla. R. P. C. 4-1.1, Competence (2020).

[21] Fla. R. P. C. 4-1.4 (b), Communication (2020).

[22] The Florida Bar Family Law Section, Goals for Family Lawyers, Fla. Fam. L. Section Bounds of Advocacy, 2.6 (May 1, 2018), available at http://familylawfla.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Fla-Bar-Magazine_5-18_text_final_electronic-version.pdf.

[23] Id. at 8. Another aspirational goal for family law practitioners is to lower the emotional level of family disputes by treating everyone, including those with mental-health issues with respect.

[24] For a well-written overview of mental illness and the right to contract, see generally Lee, Mental Illness and the Right to Contract.

[25] Larry P. Studer, Challenging Transactions of a Decedent, 89 Fla. B. J. 8 (Apr. 2018) (providing a general overview of challenges to estate transactions based on, in relevant part, incompetence of the decedent).

[26] Fla. Stat. §915.12 (2019).

[27] Syna v. Lewen, 549 So. 2d 755, 756 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989); Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12.210 (b) (2020) states, “The court shall have the discretion to appoint a guardian ad litem and/or attorney ad litem for a minor, incapacitated, or incompetent person not otherwise represented in an action or shall make such other order as it deems proper for the protection of the minor, incapacitated, or incompetent person.”

[28] Fla. Stat. §744.102(9)-(11) (2019) provides the full list.

[29] Fla. R. P. C. 4-1.1, Competence, Comment (2020) states, in relevant part, “A lawyer can provide adequate representation in a wholly novel field through necessary study. Competent representation can also be provided through the association of a lawyer of established competence in the field in question.” Bounds of Advocacy speaks to this also.

[30] Fla. Stat. §61.052 (b) (2019).

[31] Goldberg v. Goldberg, 643 So. 2d 656, 658 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994).

[32] Id. at 658 (holding that permitting divorces to proceed under section (a) notwithstanding a party’s mental incompetence would give no effect to subsection (b)); but see Cooper v. Cooper, 725 So. 2d 1175, 1176 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998) (Altenbernd, J., dissenting) (arguing that, where a party is competent at the commencement of the proceeding and admits the marriage is irretrievably broken, the subsequent incompetence should not require a three year abatement prior to resolution of the matter).

[33] Goldberg, 643 So. 2d at 658 (citing Cohen v. Cohen, 346 So. 2d 1047, 1048 (Fla. 2d DCA 1977)).

[34] Romano v. Olshen, 153 So. 3d 912, 921 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014).

[35] Fla. Stat. §744.3215(4)(c) (2019); Vaughan v. Guardianship of Vaughan, 648 So. 2d 193, 195 (Fla. 5th DCA 1994) (holding that “it is within the province of the guardianship court, based on a proper evidentiary showing as to the ward’s best interest, to authorize a guardian to initiate a dissolution action on behalf of the ward against the competent spouse”).

[36] Fla. Stat. §744.3215(3)(b) (2019) provides that an incompetent person’s right to sue and defend lawsuits may be generally delegated to a guardian.

[37] Fla. R. P. C. 4-1.14, Client Under a Disability, Comment (2020).

[38] Peppard v. Peppard, 198 So. 2d 68, 69 (Fla. 3d DCA 1967); Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12.120(a) (2018) states in relevant part, that, unless required by statute, it is not necessary to allege the capacity of a party to sue or be sued but rather it is the burden of the person wishing to raise the issue of capacity to allege it with particularity “within the pleader’s knowledge.”

[39] Clifton B. Kruse, Jr., My Basement is Filled with Pornography!, 73 Fla. B. J. 82 (Nov. 1999), provides a detailed survey of the concept of competency and its effect on legal representation in light of ABA Model Rule 1.14.

[40] Fla. R. P. C. 4-1.14, Client Under a Disability, Comment (2019) (stating “a client lacking legal competence often has the ability to understand, deliberate upon, and reach conclusions about matters affecting the client’s own well-being. Furthermore, to an increasing extent the law recognizes intermediate degrees of competence”).

[41] S.K. v. Dep’t of Children & Fam., 959 So. 2d 1209, 1213 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007). Although this case is under a Ch. 39 dependency proceeding, its interpretation of Fla. R. P. C. 4-1.14 can be applicable to family law proceedings.

[42] Fla. R. P. C. 4-1.14, Client Under a Disability (2020).

[43] Fla. B. Ethics Op. 85-4 (Oct. 1, 1985); Fla. R. P. C. 4-1.14, Client Under a Disability, Comment (2018); see also Fla. Stat. Ch. 744 (2019) regarding guardianship.

[44] Fla. R. P. C. 4-1.14, Client Under a Disability (2019).

[45] Fla. Bar. Ethics Op. 73-25 (Apr. 18, 1974), available at https://www.floridabar.org/etopinions/etopinion-73-25/.

[46] Id.

[47] Id. Though it should be noted that a court may not be able to proceed with a pro se litigant who is mentally incompetent. See Cornelius v. Sunset Golf Course, 423 So. 2d 567, 570 (Fla. 1st DCA 1982) (holding that, having found the dependent incompetent, the presiding deputy commissioner “should have either required the appointment of a guardian by a court of competent jurisdiction [as required by workers compensation laws]…or ensured [sic] that the incompetent claimant was represented by attorney as was his desire”).

[48] Fla. Bar. Ethics Op. 85-4 (Oct. 1, 1985), available at https://www.floridabar.org/etopinions/etopinion-85-4/.

[49] Id.

[50] Leinberger v. Leinberger, 455 So. 2d 1140 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984).

[51] But see Byers v. Byers, 324 So. 2d 164 (Fla. 2d DCA 1975) (holding that an indefinite stay pending the improvement of a wife’s mental health issues was inappropriate because “life has to go on” and “[t]he husband is entitled to have his day in court”).

[52] Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12.260(b) (2020).

[53] Fla. R. J. Admin. 2.545(e) (2018) (“Continuances should be few, good cause should be required, and all requests should be heard and resolved by a judge.”). As of the drafting of this article, the January 24, 2018, edition is the most current publication available on The Florida Bar website.

[54] Byers v. Byers, 324 So. 2d 164 (Fla. 2d DCA 1975) (holding that in indefinite stay pending the improvement of a wife’s mental health issues was inappropriate because “life has to go on” and “[t]he husband is entitled to have his day in court”). See note 32 (cases cited and accompanying text).

[55] Fla. R. P. C. 4-1.14, Client Under a Disability, Comment (2020).

[56] Smith v. Smith, 224 So. 3d 740 (Fla. 2017) (observing that F.S. §744.3215 separates an incapacitated person’s rights into three categories: rights which cannot be removed, rights which a court can remove and delegate to a guardian, and rights which a court can remove but cannot delegate to a guardian).

[57] Fla. R. P. C. 4-1.14, Client under a Disability, Comment (2020).

[58] Id.

[59] See note 32 (cases cited and accompanying text).

[60] Andrade v. Andrade, 720 So. 2d 551 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998) (while also a dissolution of marriage proceeding, it notes, generally, that “the ‘excusable neglect’ basis for setting aside the judgment is certainly satisfied by demonstrating mental incapacity”).

[61] For more on the matter, see generally Fla. Stat. §744 (2019).

[62] Leinberger v. Leinberger, 455 So. 2d 1140 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984) (holding that the wife’s six hospitalizations for mental instability together with other circumstances served as excusable neglect to undo the default entered against her). It should also be noted that, in the event of a dissolution of marriage from an incompetent spouse, special notice requirements apply. Fla. Stat. §61.052 (2019).

[63] Barsis v. Barsis, 209 So. 3d 654 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017) (holding that, even though former wife failed to attend the hearing, the order modifying the timesharing schedule must be reversed as the court violated former wife’s due process by significantly modifying the timesharing schedule when a potential modification of the exchange location was the only matter noticed for hearing); Shah v. Shah, 178 So. 3d 70 (Fla. 3d DCA 2015) (reversing a final judgment entered when the trial court expanded the scope of the scheduled hearing into a final hearing without proper notice).

[64] Rules related to process are found at Fla. R. Fam. L. P. 12.070 (2020).

[65] Foreman v. James, 3D19-1802 (Fla. 3d DCA Oct. 2, 2019).

[66] Feducia v. Feducia, 222 So. 3d 1239 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017) (finding a potential violation of an incarcerated husband’s due process rights when hearing was held in his absence and husband had attempted to attend the hearing but was denied the ability to do so allegedly due to the actions of a prison official).

[67] Mahan v. Mahan, 88 So. 2d 545 (Fla. 1956) (“One condition precedent to a valid and binding marriage contract is that the parties be mentally competent to enter into the contractual engagement.”). While the foregoing case discusses an annulment, the contract concept holds true for marital agreements in general.

[68] Perper v. Edell, 160 Fla. 477, 484 (Fla. 1948); see also Sheppard v. Cherry, 159 So. 661 (Fla. 1935); Farrior v. Hughes-Law Lumber Co., 151 So. 377 (Fla. 1933).