A Guide to Florida Divorce

The tasks facing you when you are considering divorce may seem almost insurmountable. Divorce is an extremely emotional time, even in situations in which you and your spouse are in agreement regarding the divorce and have no issues regarding asset division, spousal support or child custody. In fact, many divorces which begin as an uncontested divorce can rapidly escalate into a contested divorce, or, in some unfortunate cases, an exceptionally contested divorce. If you have a good idea of how your divorce will progress, it can be much easier to get out of bed every morning and face the day. One way you can ensure your divorce goes as smoothly as possible is to speak to an attorney from The Law Place. Our attorneys handle a full range of family law matters. We provide aggressive courtroom representation when a divorce goes to trial, and skilled negotiation when a trial can be avoided.

Beginning Your Divorce

It is important that you remember your divorce is a transition in your life; next year this time you and your life will be different and you will feel differently. Try to determine what mistakes you made during your marriage and resolve to avoid such mistakes in the future. If it is remotely possible, call a truce with your ex, particularly if you have children. This doesn’t mean you have to become best friends, only that you must learn to deal with one another without acrimony and anger. Never, ever agree to a settlement in your divorce before talking to your lawyer—your future is at stake, and while you may want nothing more than to have the divorce done and move forward, the decisions you make today can have a very far-reaching effect.

While some people do try to handle their own divorce, it is rarely a good idea and there are few situations in which it would be advisable. Particularly when you have spoken to your spouse about a divorce and he or she is not in agreement, when you have minor children and there is no agreement regarding custody and visitation, or you are unable to divide assets and debts with your spouse, you will need a good divorce attorney. If infidelity is an issue, your spouse is refusing to pay child support, or your spouse has deserted your family, having an experienced divorce attorney by your side is equally as important.

Either you or your spouse will file a Petition for Dissolution; the person initiating the divorce will be known as the Petitioner, while the spouse who is served with a copy of the Petition is called the Respondent. The Petition is usually served via a process server or through the Sheriff’s office. The respondent has twenty days in which to file an answer to the Petition as well as a counter-claim. You or your spouse must have resided in the state of Florida for at least six months prior to the filing of the Petition for Dissolution. Barring any compelling reasons and the consent of the court, no divorce in the state of Florida will be granted until at least twenty days following the filing of the Petition for Dissolution.

Florida Grounds for Divorce

Most states in the United States have adopted a “no-fault” legislation regarding grounds for divorce. In the past, spouses would claim fault such as adultery, cruelty or abandonment when filing for divorce. Because fault had to be proven, claiming fault could result in a divorce being dragged out for an even longer period of time. No-fault divorce requires only that one spouse claim the marriage is irretrievably broken with no hope of reconciliation. There are certain instances where the spouse being served may deny the marriage is broken, and if children are involved the judge may order the couple to attend some form of marriage counseling for a period not to exceed three months.

Although the law allows a judge to order a couple to go into counseling, many are loathe to do so. After all, if one spouse believes strongly that the marriage is broken it is unlikely it can be saved. Florida law allows spouses to file a no-fault divorce or to file claiming one party is mentally incapacitated. This claim must be backed up by at least two medical professionals, and is rarely incorporated.

Once your divorce is filed and your spouse has answered the Petition for Dissolution, you and your attorney will enter into a series of negotiations with your ex and his or her attorney. Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, a judge may order mediation, or you and your spouse may choose to settle your divorce through a process known as Collaborative Divorce. Resorting to litigation to settle your divorce will likely be emotionally, financially and legally challenging, therefore allowing a court-appointed mediator to hammer out an amicable settlement between you and your spouse could be a better route to take.

Asset Distribution in Your Florida Divorce

While thirteen states in the U.S. operate under community property law—a true 50/50 split of all marital assets—Florida and the remainder of the states are governed by the rules of equitable distribution. This means that the asset distribution may not be equal, but it will be fair—or at least as close to fair as possible. If you and your spouse are unable to reach an amicable agreement regarding the distribution of assets, the court will do it for you, taking into consideration the following:

• The contributions made by both parties to the marriage, including those of homemaker and childcare.
• The length of the marriage and the economic circumstances of each spouse.
• If there was an interruption of one spouse’s career or educational opportunities due to the marriage, this may be a factor in asset distribution.
• If one spouse desires to retain a business, professional practice or corporation aside from the other, then there may be an offset of asset distribution to the other to compensate.
• The contribution of each spouse to marital assets will be taken into consideration when dividing assets.
• If one spouse desires to retain the marital home as a residence for dependent children—and it is financially feasible—the court may award the other spouse a larger share of the assets to offset the marital home.
• If it is determined that either spouse deliberately or intentionally dissipated, wasted, depleted or destroyed marital assets after the Petition for Dissolution was filed, or within two years prior to that filing, the judge may award more marital assets to the other spouse.
• Any other factors necessary to ensure an equitable distribution of assets between the parties can be considered by the court.

Sarasota Spousal Support

Florida is one of the few remaining states which will, under certain circumstances, award permanent spousal support which remains in effect until the receiving spouse remarries or one of the spouses dies. Permanent alimony is generally only awarded in marriages of long duration (at least 17 years). The judge will also consider a disability on the part of the spouse requesting alimony, whether the spouse made exceptional contributions to the other during the marriage, and the age of spouse requesting disability.

Rehabilitative spousal support can be awarded to a spouse who wants to further their education or training in order to obtain better employment opportunities and is generally only for a specific period of time. Bridge-the-gap spousal support is meant to help the receiving spouse adjust from being married to being single. Durational spousal support is set for a specific length of time, and lump-sum spousal support is just that—one lump sum given as spousal support with no further support expected. Spousal support is a taxable deduction for the paying spouse, and taxable income for the receiving spouse. Property issues will always be decided before addressing spousal support issues because the judge will want to know exactly what income and assets the spouse requesting spousal support received.

Time-Sharing and Shared Parental Responsibilities in Your Sarasota Divorce

If you and your spouse have reached an impasse regarding child custody, your case may be considered “high-conflict,” and the decisions could be left up to the judge. Florida no longer incorporates the words “custody” and “visitation” in the state statutes, preferring to use “shared parental responsibility.” This means that while one parent will likely be the primary residential parent—meaning the children essentially “live” with that parent—the other parent will be awarded “time-sharing.” Both parties may be awarded joint legal responsibility, meaning they each have an equal say in major decisions for the children regarding health, education and religious upbringing.

When determining which parent will receive primary custody, the judge will consider the emotional ties between the parents and the children as well as each parent’s ability to provide the children with food, clothing, medical care and other material necessities. The court will further consider which parent is more likely to allow the children to enjoy frequent and continuing contact with the other parent, the permanence of the existing or proposed custodial home, the moral fitness and mental and physical health of each parent and the home, school and community records of the children. If a child is old enough and mature enough, his or her preferences may be taken into consideration.

While Florida statute does allow for a total “split” custody, the courts generally do not find this to be in the best interests of the child. If the parents cannot design a reasonable Parenting Plan, the court will make one for them. This Parenting Plan clearly delineates the parent’s time-sharing schedules and how the children will be dropped off and picked up. If the primary residential parent decides to move away, he or she must petition the court for the right to do so, unless the other parent agrees. The parent who desires to move must present a compelling case to the judge as to how the move will benefit the children. The parent may be moving for a better employment opportunity or to be closer to friends and family, however unless the judge is convinced the move is in the best interests of the children, the petition will be denied.

When you are going through a divorce, you may not be able to see your future clearly, and making necessary decisions may seem like an overwhelming task. The attorneys at The Law Place can provide the kind of skilled, knowledgeable representation you need at a time when you need it most. Whether through mediation, negotiation or litigation, our attorneys will be by your side from start to finish.