Do I Really Need an Attorney For My Divorce?
While it is certainly possible to handle your own divorce, it is rarely recommended. Among the tiny percentage of divorces which are completely amicable and do not entail the division of marital assets or child custody, it could be possible to file the paperwork and receive the judge’s stamp of approval without benefit of an attorney. For all other divorces—the vast majority—the benefits of hiring an experienced Florida divorce lawyer include:
• Your divorce attorney is well-versed in Florida divorce law and stays up to date on any changes to those laws.
• Your divorce attorney will never miss a critical deadline and is experienced in filing petitions and motions with the court.
• Your divorce attorney is a skilled negotiator for such issues as asset division, alimony and child custody.
• Your divorce attorney has a working relationship with the local judges and attorneys—a fact which could greatly benefit you.
• Your divorce attorney is invested in the outcome of your divorce.
The attorneys at The Law Place have a thorough understanding of all issues surrounding your divorce—not only are we highly experienced and knowledgeable of Florida divorce laws, we also understand what divorce does to those involved and we have compassion for your situation. Divorce is a complex process which can affect nearly every aspect of your life; finances, emotions, physical logistics and legalities are merely a few of these. You need someone in your corner, looking out for your best interests and your future and our attorneys will do just that.
Things to Consider When Contemplating Divorce
Whether you have unexpectedly been served with divorce papers or you have been considering divorce for some time, there are issues you must consider. Some of these issues include:
• If you have children, you must first and foremost consider their future and their current well-being. Divorce can literally rock the security that children need and deserve.
• Ensure all financial and business records are accessible to you. This includes checking and savings account statements, credit card statements, insurance policies, wills and trust documents, documents related to retirement accounts, deeds, mortgages, property appraisals and tax returns should all be readily at hand.
• Make a list of all marital assets—before some of those assets disappear. Unfortunately, it is all too common for marital assets to mysteriously disappear once a divorce is in the works. Furnishings, automobiles, savings accounts, jewelry, artwork, recreational vehicles, vacation homes, rentals—these are just a few of the assets you must have a list of.
• Summarize your marital history before you visit with an attorney. This will help you remember all the things you want to discuss with your attorney and ensure that important details are not overlooked.
• Note any history of domestic violence or domestic abuse in your marital history.
• Determine your ultimate goals in the divorce as far as asset division, child custody and spousal support. This gives your divorce attorney measurable goals to work toward.
• While divorce is an extremely emotional time, do your best to curtail these emotions during the legal process. Talk to a friend for emotional support, but keep your emotions out of the legal divorce proceedings to the extent possible.
Choosing the Right Divorce Attorney
You will work closely with your divorce attorney, and, like it or not, your divorce attorney will likely end up knowing much more about your personal life than you would prefer. Because of this, it is essential that you choose a divorce attorney you feel comfortable with and one you can fully place your trust in. For the best outcome possible, make sure your attorney has a great deal of experience in Florida divorce, understands the complexities of family law, is a skilled negotiator, and is able to work with other professionals such as accountants, appraisers, investigators, judges, other attorneys and expert witnesses.
Choose your divorce attorney wisely and you will reap the benefits of a trusting relationship for years to come. The Law Place attorneys understand the importance of the lawyer-client relationship during a divorce. We know you may be feeling exhausted and emotionally battered and just want to get your divorce over with. The attorneys at The Law Place can lift a great deal of that burden from your shoulders, allowing you to deal with the emotional aspect of your divorce while we deal with the legalities and work toward getting you the best settlement and custody arrangement possible.
Beginning the Process of Divorce/The Phases of Your Divorce
A divorce usually begins when one party files a petition for the dissolution of the marriage. This petition is generally prepared by a qualified divorce attorney. Once the complaint or petition has been filed, a summons will be issued to the other spouse, along with a copy of the complaint or petition. Grounds for the divorce will be stated, although the vast majority of those seeking a divorce file under irreconcilable differences, rather than stating fault. In most cases, the spouse served will respond with a counterclaim, admitting or denying specific allegations in the original petition.
The respective attorneys will review all documents and records, and will request such things as financial documents or appraisals of shared property from the other party. Interrogatories may be sent back and forth, or a deposition could be arranged where both parties will be asked questions under oath. If there are disagreements regarding asset division or child custody (and there almost always are), motions will be filed which may be met by objections to the motions or counter-motions. A court hearing will be scheduled, allowing the judge to hear both sides of the argument, making rulings on each individual issue.
In some cases, the motion and hearing phase can drag on for weeks or months, when the parties simply can’t agree on any of the important issues. The judge can order mediation, or ask the parties to try once more to settle their issues, however if no resolution results, a trial will be set. A final ruling will be made on all disputed issues by a family court judge and the attorneys will create a Judgment for Dissolution which reflects the final court rulings.
Residency Requirements and Grounds for Your Divorce
Prior to filing your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in the State of Florida, your divorce attorney will ensure the Circuit Court has jurisdiction over your case. In other words, you must meet the Florida residency requirements in order to be allowed to continue with your divorce in the state. Under those requirements, either you or your spouse must have resided in the state of Florida a minimum of six months prior to filing for divorce. Most commonly, you will file in the county where you live, although there are certain exceptions. Your divorce attorney will be able to give you further information regarding residency requirements should you have questions.
Move Out, Or Stay Put?
Once you have decided to divorce, you may wonder whether you should stay in the marital home or temporarily move to an apartment. From a legal perspective, you will not lose your rights to the marital home should you choose to move out, however many spouses who have moved out have found to their dismay that a considerable amount of marital assets disappeared in the interim. If you do move out, make sure you have photographs and lists of what was in the home when you left. If the divorce is especially contentious, there may simply be no way to tolerably co-exist in the same house with your spouse. The practical consideration for most couples going through a divorce is whether maintaining separate households is financially feasible. In many divorces there are simply not sufficient financial resources to allow one spouse to move out. Even so, if the relations between you and your spouse are full of tension and anger, it could be beneficial to stay with a friend or family member.
Grounds for Divorce in the State of Florida
Florida (like most other states) is now what is known as a no-fault state as far as grounds for divorce go. Even so, whether you file for divorce or are served with divorce papers, the petition must include the grounds for your divorce. In the State of Florida, this means there was either an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or mental incapacity of one of the spouses exists.
If you claim that your marriage is irretrievably broken, your marriage must have once been a legitimate marriage and no longer functions as such. If you claim mental incapacity, the spouse must have been mentally incapacitated for at least three years prior to the time you file for divorce and two or more psychiatrists must testify that the spouse is incurable. Those filing for divorce rarely use mental incapacity as grounds for divorce, preferring to claim there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
Division of Marital Assets: Factors in Florida Property Division
Florida is considered an “equitable distribution” state which is not the same as a community property state. Although on the surface, equitable distribution would lead you to believe that all marital property acquired during the marriage would be split down the middle, you could find yourself very surprised to find there are exceptions which could affect your final settlement. In fact, it is rare that a true 50/50 split will occur, and, in practice, about two-thirds of a couple’s marital assets may be awarded to the higher wage earner. Further, the court may simply decide that a perfectly equal division is not warranted, dividing the marital assets as they see fit. This is one of the many reasons you need a skilled divorce attorney to go to bat for you and ensure you receive what you are entitled to. Particularly if you have spent many years at home taking care of the children and of all the details of your family’s lives, you could end up on the short end of the marital asset division. The attorneys of The Family Law Place will fight aggressively for a truly equitable settlement on your behalf.
Florida law allows that permanent or rehabilitative alimony may be awarded to a spouse; this alimony may be awarded in a lump sum or in periodic payments. Fault in the divorce can become important during the court’s consideration of alimony or spousal support as the court is allowed to consider marital fault, particularly adultery. All relevant economic factors will also be taken into consideration such as:
• The standard of living established during the marriage
• The length of the marriage
• The age and health status of each spouse
• The financial resources and assets of each spouse
• The time it would take for either spouse to acquire the necessary education and training in order to qualify for appropriate employment
• The contribution of each spouse, including financial contributions as well as child care, education, homemaking and career building
• All sources of income available to each spouse
Child Custody and Child Support
As with most family law courts, the Florida court will determine custody based on the best interests of the children, in accordance with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Barring any past domestic violence, the court will ensure that minor children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents following the divorce. The father is given the same consideration as the mother when determining the primary residence of the children, irrespective of the age or sex of the child. Simply believing the children are better off with you is not sufficient to obtain primary custody of your children—the court must believe you are the best custodial parent. If you have valid reasons for not wanting your spouse to have custody of the children, it is important that your divorce attorney have all the facts necessary in order to present the best case for custody on your behalf.
The Law Place—Offering Stellar Legal Support From the Simplest to the Most Complex Divorce
At The Law Place our attorneys want your divorce to end on your terms, leaving you able to focus on starting over, and giving you the ability to actually look forward to your future. Our goals for your divorce include the following:
• We will always explain what is happening in your divorce rather than leaving you to wonder what’s going on.
• We will work hard on your behalf to ensure a fair and balanced child custody and visitation agreement.
• We will aggressively work to confirm that your share of the marital assets is truly equitable, after ensuring there are no hidden assets and that all financial disclosures are accurate and complete.
• We will explore all issues pertaining to spousal support, no matter which side of the fence you are on.
• We will consistently look out for your best interests, and will be straightforward with you while attempting to minimize the stress of your divorce.
Whether your divorce appears to be relatively straightforward, or is shaping up to be fraught with complexities, tensions and hostilities the attorneys at The Law Place will work hard to safeguard you, leaving you as unscathed as possible.