Consequence of the Death of a Party to Marriage Dissolution Case Before Final Judgement

In Johnson v. Feeney, 507 So. 2d 722 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987), the wife died after the trial court had entered final judgment dissolving the marriage, but before the trial court had ruled on a timely motion for rehearing filed by the husband. The opinion offers very few facts and does not identify the issues raised in the motion for rehearing. Thus, it cannot be determined from the face of the opinion whether the motion challenged the dissolution or was limited to other issues. Nevertheless, the district court held that the final judgment dissolving the marriage was void and should have been vacated upon proper motion by the husband alerting the court to the wife's death. See id. at 723. In so holding, the court noted two general principles of law. First, it stated that the "death of a party to a marriage dissolution action before a final judgment is entered terminates the marriage relationship by operation of law and divests the trial court of jurisdiction to issue a final decree." Id. (citing Sahler v. Sahler, 154 Fla. 206, 17 So. 2d 105 (1944); Price v. Price, 114 Fla. 233, 153 So. 904 (1934); Jaris v. Tucker, 414 So. 2d 1164 (Fla. 3d DCA 1982); McKendree v. McKendree, 139 So. 2d 173 (Fla. 1st DCA 1962)). Second, the court noted that a judgment of dissolution is not final while a motion for rehearing is pending. Id. (citing State ex rel. Owens v. Pearson, 156 So. 2d 4, 7 (Fla. 1963), and other cases). Considering these rules together, the court concluded that the death of one party to a marriage dissolution action after the entry of judgment, but before the trial court rules on a pending motion for rehearing, terminates the marriage by operation of law and divests the trial court of jurisdiction to make the judgment final. See id.