Friday, December 30, 2011

The trial court's discretion in rejecting the general magistrate’s factual findings.

The trial court's discretion in rejecting the general magistrate’s factual findings.

In Anderson v. Anderson, 736 So. 2d 49 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999), the
court held as to the trial court’s standard of review of a master or
magistrate’s report:

It is clear that if one objects to a master’s report, the trial
court has an obligation not merely to consider the findings
and recommendation of the master but also to review the
entire file. But the review is not intended to permit the trial
court to make its independent finding of facts or to reach its
independent conclusion as to the legal effect of such facts.
The review of the entire record is to ascertain whether the
master’s finding is supported by competent evidence and to
see if the master’s conclusions pass the Canakaris[1] test.
Id. at 50-51. In Reece v. Reece, 449 So. 2d 1295 (Fla. 4th DCA 1984),
this court held:

The findings of fact and conclusions drawn therefrom may
not be rejected by the trial court in the absence of clear
error. To put it another way, the role of the trial court in
reviewing the findings and determinations of the master are
similar to those of the appellate court in reviewing a trial
court’s findings and determinations. This rule is subject to
the observation that it is the trial judge “who under the law
is charged with the duty and responsibility of making
findings of facts and entering the final decree.” It is also
recognized that the trial court may come to different legal
conclusions than the master, based upon the master’s
findings of fact, without committing reversible error.
Id. at 1295-96 (citations omitted). Citing Reece, this court held that
“[w]hile the master’s report is clothed with a presumption of correctness
as to its factual findings, the trial court may com
contract impair his or her obligation to support a minor child, and its corollary that only such
contracts that are consistent with the best interests of the minor child
will be enforced.” Essex, 503 So. 2d at 1366 (citations omitted).
In Shellmyer v. Shellmyer, 418 So. 2d 477 (Fla. 4th DCA 1982), after a
judgment of dissolution ordered monthly child support payments by the
father, the parents entered into an out-of-court lump sum settlement
under which the father conveyed his equity interest in the former marital
residence to the mother in lieu of past and future periodic child support.
The mother returned to court, claiming that their agreement was
forbidden “because the basic right of a minor child to support cannot be
affected by an agreement between the parties.” Id. at 477. When the
trial court ruled on the mother’s motion, it ordered that the father
resume paying child support as well as his arrearages. However, the trial
court did not give the father any credit for his interest in the marital
residence which he had transferred to the mother. On appeal, this court
held that the parties should be returned to the original status quo. The
father was to resume paying child support from the date of its cessation,
but he would get credit for the arrearages against the value of his equity
interest in the marital home.

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