Finn v. Finn

Decision Date26 March 1975
Docket NumberNo. 45729,45729
Citation312 So.2d 726
PartiesLeonard H. FINN, Petitioner, v. Mildred J. FINN, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Shalle Stephen Fine and Steven R. Brownstein, Miami, for petitioner.

Murray A. Greenberg, Greenberg & Greenberg, Miami Beach, for respondent.

WILLIS, Circuit Judge.

This is a review of the judgment and opinion of the District Court of Appeal, Third District, in Finn v. Finn, Fla.App. (3rd), 1974, 294 So.2d 57. It is asserted that this decision is in direct conflict with Perla v. Perla, Sup.Ct.Fla.1952, 58 So.2d 689 and with Fincham v. Levin, Fla.App. (1st), 1963, 155 So.2d 883. We also note a conflict with White v. White, Fla.App. (1st) 1974, 296 So.2d 619, which was decided after the Finn case on review here. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Article V, Section 3(b)(3), Florida Constitution.

In the case sub judice the court of appeal affirmed a post judgment order of the trial court in a dissolution of marriage case. The final judgment was rendered December 14, 1971 and, among other things, granted a divorce and dissolution of the marriage of the parties, awarded custody of the adoptive children of the parties to the mother with liberal visitation rights in the father, and ordered the father to pay the mother 'as and for child support for Curtis and Keith Finn the sum of $100.00 per week'. The post judgment order under attack was made November 29, 1973 and was pursuant to a hearing on the motion of the mother for an order enforcing the child support provisions of the final judgment. The Order recited that the parties had agreed that the boys attained age 18 on September 29, 1973 and also that the father as of that date stopped paying the $100.00 per week child support. It was also stated in the Order that it was agreed that the boys are each attending college and that neither is physically or mentally handicapped. Though not stated specifically, it is obvious that the boys are twins.

The Order succinctly defines the issue involved by observing that the mother argues that under the terms of the final judgment the $100.00 per week support was to continue until the boys reached age 21 and that the father contends the support should terminate on the date the boys attained age 18.

The trial judge granted the motion and ordered the father to pay all arrearages with interest and to pay the $100.00 per week for child support until the 'children' attain the age of 21 years.

The court of appeal affirmed and in doing so construed Chapter 73--21, Laws of Florida, 1973, (F.S. 743.07) which reduced the age of majority from 21 to 18, and made other provisions for the transition of the change, effective July 1, 1973. It was pointed out that Section 2 of the Act authorizes a court to provide dependent persons beyond the age of 18 with support and that Section 3 clearly indicates that the statute is not to have an impact on obligations existing prior to the effective date of the act. It was then stated:

'Prior to July 1, 1973, the appellant was obligated to support the children of the marriage until they reached the age of 21 years. Under the provisions of the act, these obligations were not to be disturbed.'

The parties seem to be in agreement that the question involved is whether or not the father's obligation to pay child support automatically terminates upon the children's attaining age 18. However, this question is to be considered in the light of the particular circumstances involved here, namely: (1) The final judgment was rendered more than a year prior to the effective date of Chapter 73--21; the judgment merely ordered payment of a weekly sum for support of the children without specification of the duration of such payments; the boys reached age 18 subsequent to the effective date of Chapter 73--21; and the boys are not mentally or physically handicapped and are attending college. There is no issue of ability of the father to pay.

In Perla v. Perla, supra, the Supreme Court stated:

'Generally, the obligation of a parent to support a child ceases when the child reaches majority, but an exception arises when the child is, from physical or mental deficiencies, unable to support himself.'

The case of Fincham v. Levin, supra, which is also cited as being in conflict with the case sub judice, involved an order of support in a Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act case (F.S. Chapter 88) in which a father was directed to pay support for an adult daughter who had never been married, had been since birth an epileptic, mentally and physically unable to care for or support herself, needed medical treatment and had always been under the care of her mother, who was divorced from the father some years previously. The court of appeal affirmed the trial court and in doing so recognized that the rule at common law was that parents are obligated to support only their minor children and that there is no obligation to support an adult child. However, it was stated that this is the rule with respect to able-bodied children. Perla v. Perla was cited and other authorities were mentioned that reflected that most jurisdictions hold that where a child is of a weak body or mind, unable to care for itself after coming of age, the parental rights and duties remain practically unchanged and the duty to support continues as before.

Both of these cases were decided long before the enactment of Chapter 73--21 and at a time when the age of majority in Florida was 21. However, they do indicate that the attainment of majority, whatever may be the age prescribed by law for acquiring that status, terminates the obligation of a parent to support an offspring unless there is a physical or mental disability rendering continued support necessary. We must consider if Chapter 73--21 renders the strict application of this general rule proper in a case such as is involved here.

The case of White v. White, supra, does construe Chapter 73--21 and, by a divided court, reached the conclusion that the term 'dependent person', as used in the statute designating the age of 18 as the the age of majority but also providing that it shall not prohibit any court from requiring support for a dependent person beyond the age of 18 years, refers only to a person over that age who is unable, by reason of physical or mental incompetency or inability, to be independent. The case involved an order of the trial court requiring a father to pay the mother of an offspring over 18 years of age support for that offspring. A final judgment of divorce was entered in 1969 which awarded custody of a then 15 year old son to the mother and required payment of a stated sum for child support without specifying what would terminate the duty or when it would cease. A modification in 1970 reduced the amount of the payments and provided they should continue 'until further order of the court'. A still later order, on August 31, 1971, raised the amount of support but was silent as to a termination date and also omitted a provision that payments continue 'until further order of the Court'. The son reached age 18 on February 6, 1972 and following the effective date of Chapter 73--21 (July 1, 1973) the father discontinued making payments. The mother sought enforcement. It was made to appear that the son had worked but was injured on the job so that he drew workmen's compensation, but had no permanent disability and since the injury he had worked on a construction job which he quit to go to school with a view of ultimately attending law school. The trial judge ordered the payments to be continued since the son was attending junior college and expressed the view that the son is entitled to a college education at the expense of his parents.

The majority opinion in White cited Finn v. Finn, supra, the case sub judice, and sought to distinguish it by erroneously noting that the original final judgment in Finn provided for support payments to continue until the children reached age 21. However, the White majority disagreed with Finn in what White deemed was the holding in Finn, namely, that the word 'dependent' used in Section 2 of Chapter 73--21 means 'without independent means of support as distinguished from physical or mental disability'. It was concluded that 'dependent' was intended to designate a person over 18 unable by reason of physical or mental incompetency or inability to be independent.

The case sub judice turns on the proper application of Sections 2 and 3 of Chapter 73--21 to the particular circumstances here involved. Section 2 provides that the disability of nonage is removed for all persons who are 18 years of age or older 'and they shall . . . suffer the . . . obligations of all persons 21 years of age or older . . .'. There is a proviso which is in pertinent part as follows:

'Provided, however, this act shall not prohibit any court of competent jurisdiction from requiring support for a dependent person beyond the...

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