Dissolution, Adoption, and Jurisdiction: Fourth DCA Holds Family Court Retained Jurisdiction Despite Separate Adoption Order Terminating Father’s Rights

Baudanza v. Baudanza
Case No. 4D10-4068

The parties divorced in 2006 and Former Husband was ordered to pay child support pursuant to the parties’ Marital Settlement Agreement. Former Wife later remarried, and the parties agreed to a modification whereby Former Husband would pay half of the original child support amount and Former Wife’s new husband would file for formal adoption of the parties’ son, but Former Husband would have access to his son for life. An adoption proceeding was started with a new case number. However, the final order of adoption stated that Former Husband’s parental rights to his son were terminated. Former Husband later claimed in the dissolution of marriage proceeding that he did not have to pay child support since Former Wife had precluded him from seeing his son and his parental rights had been terminated by the adoption order. The family court judge ruled that she lacked further jurisdiction of the matter because the modification and adoption had closed the case.

On appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that the family court judge still had jurisdiction despite the order of adoption. The court cited case law for the proposition that a judge in the probate, juvenile, civil or criminal division “has the authority and jurisdiction to hear cases involving child custody or dependency.” In Interest of Peterson, 364 So. 2d 98, 99 (Fla. 4th DCA 1978). Additionally, the court noted that the family court had retained jurisdiction in its order on the modification agreement, whereas the trial court in the adoption had not reserved jurisdiction. The court held the family court could “determine the validity and enforceability of the [modification] agreement in light of the adoption of the child.” The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.