Divorce in Florida is known as dissolution of marriage; dissolving your marriage is rarely an easy decision to arrive at, and can become more and more complicated as the divorce progresses. Such issues as child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, asset and debt division and attorney’s fees are all part of your divorce. While the majority of divorces are settled without benefit of a trial, others are not so lucky. If you are considering divorce or have already started the process—or have been served with divorce papers—we can help. The Law Place attorneys can not only handle each and every legal aspect of your divorce, we also have compassion for your situation and will work hard to ensure the best outcome possible.
An Overview of Your Florida Divorce
Your Florida dissolution of marriage will begin with a Petition for Dissolution which notifies both the court and your spouse that you are seeking to end your marriage. This Petition will also set forth your requests regarding child custody, spousal support, asset division and possession of the marital residence, as well as any other requests you may have. This Petition will be served on your spouse, by a process server or by the Sheriff’s office. Once the Petition is served, your spouse will have an opportunity (20 days) to file a response. If you are the spouse being served, this twenty-day limit is critical. If you neglect to file your response within 20 days, you may well give up your right to present your side and the court may grant your spouse everything he or she requests in the Petition for Dissolution.
You may only file for divorce in the state of Florida if you or your spouse has been a resident of the state for at least six months prior to the Petition filing. Your divorce will be uncontested or contested, meaning you either agree on all points with your spouse, or you agree on little or nothing. An uncontested divorce can go through in as little as 4-6 weeks, while a contested divorce will take much longer. At this point you can have your attorney ask the court for temporary orders regarding spousal support, child support, who will take care of the household bills, and who will remain in the marital home.
Each side will receive information known as discovery from the other spouse. Florida law requires both parties to complete a financial affidavit and file it with the court. In some divorces, interrogatories are sent back and forth. Interrogatories are a list of questions requiring a formal, written answer, then questions may be asked in return. Some divorces will include a deposition in which both spouses and their attorneys appear under oath in an attorney’s office to answer questions which will be recorded and used in the divorce trial.
A judge may require you and your spouse to attend mediation prior to scheduling a trial for your divorce. During mediation, a neutral person who is certified to conduct mediation sessions will attempt to help you and your spouse in reaching agreements regarding certain issues. If agreements cannot be reached, a trial will be scheduled in your case. At the trial, both sides will be presented, and the judge will make decisions regarding your parenting responsibilities, asset division, spousal support and any other issues necessary.
Is There Such a Thing as Legal Separation in Florida?
You now have a basic idea of how your divorce will proceed, but you likely still have questions regarding the divorce. Perhaps you are unsure of whether you really want to proceed with your divorce and want a legal separation. Unfortunately, unlike many other states, Florida does not offer such a solution, at least not by that specific name. What the state does offer is a solution known as “support unconnected with dissolution.” This allows spouses who don’t want to live together but still are considering working on their marriage a sort of financial solution—at least for the person requesting support. Suppose the husband moves out, but there is no formal divorce filing. The wife may petition for support unconnected with dissolution in order to require the husband to continue to pay household bills, child support, and possibly even spousal support.
What is an MSA?
The desired outcome of your mediation process comes in the form of a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) which will act as a sort of guidebook following your divorce. A signed agreement will be included in the MSA, as will a Parenting Plan (if you have children), an asset distribution agreement, a spousal support agreement, child support amounts and anything else which may be relevant to your divorce. The “everything else” category could include how a retirement fund will be divided, who will claim the children on their taxes, who will pay attorney’s fees, whether the children and spouse will remain on the other spouse’s health insurance plan, or even when one spouse can visit with the family pets. In other words, there will be issues in your MSA that would probably not apply to anyone else, but are important to your divorce and post-divorce life.
Once known as “custody,” Florida now prefers to use the term “parental responsibility,” which covers co-parenting issues. Florida courts, like most all courts, will rule according to what is in the best interests of the child or children. If the parents cannot agree on a Parenting Plan, the court will take on the task of dividing parental responsibilities. The Parenting Plan will detail which parent will make major decisions regarding education, medical treatment and religious upbringing—or if both parents will share in those major decisions.
The Plan will also set forth which days and nights the children will spend with one parent and which days and nights with the other as well as how “drop-offs” and returns will happen. In some cases the children will spend the weekdays with one parent in order to ensure smoother school attendance, then will spend two-three weekends with the other parent each month. Holidays, vacations and birthdays as well as any other significant days will be divided between the parents as well. Parents who share parental responsibility are both entitled to access medical, dental, and school records.
Relocation of One Parent
If one parent desires to move from the city, or even out of state, they will be required to petition the courts before the move. Unless the other parent is in agreement regarding the move, the parent who wants to move will have to justify that move to the courts. If the move is to secure better employment or to be closer to family members, this will be taken into consideration, however in the end, the courts will decide based on what is best for the children. If the other parent has compelling reasons as to why there should be no move, then the petition may be denied.
Equitable Distribution of Assets
Some states operate under community property laws which basically mean in the event of a divorce the marital assets will be split 50/50. Florida law is based on equitable distribution, meaning the asset distribution is meant to be fair rather than equal. Many things will be taken into account when determining an equitable division of assets, including:
• The length of the marriage
• The health—mental and physical—of each party
• The ability of each party to make a living following the divorce
• The contributions of each spouse will be taken into consideration, including contributions of childcare and homemaking as well as wage-earning.
• The non-marital assets each spouse has
• The contributions of one spouse toward the education or career of the other
If either spouse was involved in deliberately dissipating assets for an period up to two years prior to the divorce, the amount may be offset during your asset division. Further, a judge may take credible claims of adultery into account when dividing assets as well.
Spousal Support in Florida
Spousal support may be awarded by a judge for one party or the other, primarily based on the receiving spouse’s need and the paying spouse’s ability to pay, as well as whether the marriage is considered short term (less than 7 years), moderate-term (7-17 years), and long-term (over 17 years). Other factors the judge will take into consideration include:
• The age and physical and emotional condition of each spouse
• Whether the marriage is short-term, moderate-term or long-term
• The standard of living which was established during the spouse’s marriage
• The financial resources of each spouse, including marital and non-marital assets
• The ability to earn a living based on education, vocational skills and overall employability of each spouse
• The time it will take one spouse to achieve a higher level of employability
• Contributions to the marriage of each spouse
• The parental responsibilities each spouse will have in regard to children in common
• All sources of income available to both spouses
• The judge will also consider any other factors which are relevant in determining whether spousal support is warranted.
Spousal support may be permanent, short-term, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, lump-sum, durational or temporary. Once spousal support is ordered, it may or may not be modified at a later date, however in general, spousal support ends when the receiving party re-marries or one party dies.
Moving Beyond Your Divorce
Divorce is emotional and requires a period of recovery, which is different for every person. You must first accept that your marriage is over, then create a solid support system based on trusted friends and family members. Some people find divorce support groups very helpful during this difficult time. Divorce is a transition, and like all transitions you will almost certainly feel differently this time next year. Take stock of your life and determine what you want from your future. If possible, call a truce with your ex, particularly if you share children. Holding on to anger and resentment hurts you more than anyone else. Clear out the clutter in your life, and try your best to live within your new financial means. An attorney from The Law Place can be a great resource for gaining information about issues you need to understand during your divorce and after. We want to ensure you come out of your divorce as emotionally and financially unscathed as possible.