Spouses who are hit with divorce papers when they had no idea they were coming admit to being completely blindsided. Of course most of these people knew there were problems in their marriage, but didn’t feel those problems were insurmountable. Should the process server knock on your door one day when you are absolutely not expecting divorce papers, it can truly leave you reeling—and wondering what you could have done to avoid such a shock. Perhaps you and your spouse have both been privately considering a legal end to your marriage—maybe you have even talked about divorce in the abstract.
If so, you may wonder whether you will be in a better position if you file a Petition for Dissolution first, before your spouse has the opportunity. Speaking with an attorney from The Law Place can help you make this important decision. We have the necessary knowledge of Florida family law as well as years and years of experience helping those going through a divorce. While it may make no sense to race your spouse to the courthouse simply out of spite, there are real, legitimate reasons to consider filing first, should you have the choice.
Are There Advantages to Filing First?
While it may make little legal difference over the long haul who files for divorce first, it can give you a certain procedural advantage in that you have a better opportunity to decide when the divorce will start, which will determine subsequent deadlines. In some states, filing first would allow the filer to choose between a fault or a no-fault divorce, however Florida only allows no-fault divorces, so that is not a consideration. You may be able to have some leeway in choosing jurisdiction by filing first, assuming you and your spouse are living in different counties. This would allow you to avoid the need to travel to where your spouse lives, saving time and money. Different Florida counties may have somewhat different local rules as well, making it more favorable to be the spouse filing the Petition for Dissolution.
From a practical standpoint, being the first to file for divorce may allow you to be heard first during hearings, mediations and court proceedings, giving you the opportunity to present your information without being angry about what your spouse just said. Further, you may be given the opportunity to rebut your spouse’s presentation simply because you were the first to file. Should you file for divorce first, you also gain the element of surprise, meaning your spouse does not have the opportunity to dispose of assets or make unusual expenditures. If you have children, filing first allows your attorney to file a motion regarding the status quo of the children’s residence, routines and parenting time until further order of the court.
Being the person to file first also gives you the option of withdrawing the Petition for Dissolution should your circumstances change—should the divorce become too expensive, cause too much chaos in your children’s lives or you decide to reconcile with your spouse. Finally, by filing first you have the opportunity to gather all the documentation you may need before the divorce begins. Gathering all your financial records together is a good idea, particularly if you have an idea those documents might mysteriously disappear after you file for divorce.
Are There Any Disadvantages to Filing First?
Filing first does tend to reveal your strategy for the divorce, allowing your spouse to build defenses to all your claims. If a person moves to a state simply to take advantage of more favorable divorce laws, the courts may not look positively upon that person. As an example, Florida operates under equitable distribution laws regarding the division of assets rather than the strict 50/50 split in community property states. A spouse who knows a divorce is coming, but lives in a community property state, may move to a state like Florida, live there six months and file for divorce. There is a risk, however that the spouse who stays behind files first in the state with less favorable asset division laws.
There really are few reasons not to file first and many reasons in favor of being the first to file, perhaps most notably to avoid the shock of being served with divorce papers when you are not expecting them. Our attorneys can provide you with further information regarding being the spouse to file a Petition for Dissolution first. Speaking to an attorney from The Law Place can go a long way to alleviate some of the anxiety you may be feeling regarding your divorce. We want to help you through this difficult time and will fight aggressively for your rights and your future throughout the divorce process.