Mannella v. Mannella: Michael and Leah Mannella divorced in April 2018. The final judgment incorporated their marital settlement agreement and required Mr. Mannella pay $2,000 per month in durational alimony and $250 per month in child support. In September 2020, Mr. Mannella sought a reduction in child support, claiming Mrs. Mannella’s income substantially increased and his income substantially declined. The parties went to trial, and the trial court found that even though Mrs. Mannella’s income increased since the divorce, so had Mr. Mannella’s. The trial court also found that Mr. Mannella “voluntarily modified his employment” hoping to reduce child support. The trial court concluded that there had not been a substantial change in circumstances since the final judgment and denied Mr. Mannella’s petition to modify child support.
On appeal, the parties argued whether the party seeking a reduction in child support, which was agreed to in a marital settlement agreement, must show a substantial change in circumstances or meet a “heavier burden,” one the Sixth District Court of Appeal called “judicially created.” Mrs. Mannella argued the “heavier burden” applied; Mr. Mannella claimed he met the “heavier burden.” The Sixth District clarified this “shared confusion,” holding that the proper standard is substantial change in circumstances. And it held the standard applies “[w]hether the underlying support order arises from an agreed-upon resolution or a court-imposed order,” citing Florida Statutes section 61.14(7).
So why the confusion? According to the Sixth District, some of its sister courts applied what it labeled “dicta” from a Florida Supreme Court case called Overby v. Overbey, 698 So. 2d 811 (Fla. 1997) to reach the erroneous conclusion that the party seeking a downward modification of child support must satisfy a “heavier burden.” The Court certified conflict with Schmachtenberg v. Schmachtenberg, 34 So. 3d 28 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010), Catalano v. Catalano, 787 So. 2d 243 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001), and Knight v. Knight, 702 So. 2d 242 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997), “solely on the standard of proof required for downward modification of a child support obligation established by agreement.”
Given 1) the issue on appeal was whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying Mr. Mannella’s petition to modify child support, 2) the trial court applied the proper standard, and 3) the Sixth District held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion, one wonders whether the Sixth District’s discussion about the “heavier burden” isn’t, dicta.