Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Family Law Procedure

When attorney’s fees are awarded to one party in a Florida family law case, the next step is to determine the amount of fees to be awarded. This requires testimony or evidence of the amount of fees expended in order for the court to make a determination of reasonableness. This was an issue in the case Fetchick v. Fetchick, 5D21-1722 (Fla. 5th DCA August 26, 2022).

The parties had a parenting plan entered as part of their divorce. Later the mother filed a petition to modify the parenting plan, and the father filed a motion for contempt alleging the mother was violating the same. During a hearing on the motion for contempt, the court heard testimony from the father as to how much in attorney’s fees he expended in pursuing the motion. The mother objected to the father’s attorney offering testimony about his hourly rate. The mother was ultimately found in willful contempt, and the court granted the father’s entitlement to fees, but did not establish an amount, believing corroborating expert testimony was needed to establish an amount. The court invited the father to file another motion for fees which he did. The father later filed a memorandum of law advising the court that corroborating evidence was not needed to establish the amount of fees owed. The mother responded by arguing the father was not entitled to fees because it did not reserve jurisdiction for the fees in the final judgment of modification, nor did the order on the motion for contempt reserve jurisdiction. The trial court agreed and dismissed the father’s fee motion. The father appealed.

The appellate court reversed, holding “There is no dispute that following entry of the 2015 final judgment, the trial court retained continuing jurisdiction to enforce that judgment, including by finding Mother in contempt and establishing the associated fees owed. At the contempt proceeding, the trial court ruled that Father was entitled to fees and invited him to file another motion to determine the amount. Thus, specific to the award of attorney’s fees, the contempt order was a non-final order, merely prefatory to another order establishing the fees Mother owed. [. . .] As such, the trial court did not need to reserve jurisdiction to set the amount of the award.” The court concluded “The trial court also erred in the first instance by refusing to establish Father’s fee award without corroborating expert testimony. Section 61.16 expressly states that such evidence is not required. § 61.16(1), Fla. Stat. Had the trial court followed the statute, a significant amount of time and resources would have been saved. Moreover, we agree with Father that it was error to exclude his counsel’s testimony as to the reasonableness of counsel’s hours expended and hourly rate.”

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