Thinking about divorce but don’t know where to begin? Spouse has filed a divorce against you and you don’t know what to do?
A divorce is known as a “dissolution of marriage.” A dissolution of marriage may be granted in Florida if: the marriage is irretrievably broken or mental incapacity of one of the spouses for a preceding period of at least 3 years. There are two types of divorces: “regular dissolution of marriage” and “simplified dissolution of marriage.” If you and your spouse meet the requirements (i.e.- do not have children under the age of 18, both agree to the terms of the divorce, as well as other requirements) then you and your spouse may file for what is called a “simplified dissolution of marriage”. If you do not meet the requirements for a simplified dissolution of marriage, then the other option would be a “regular dissolution of marriage”.
In a regular dissolution of marriage, the spouse that files for divorce is called the petitioner. The person the petitioner is filing against is called the respondent. The respondent will receive a “notice of action dissolution of marriage” and is given 20 days to respond. Both parties have 45 days from the service of the petition to provide financial documents and a completed financial affidavit. Failure to meet these deadlines could result in the court dismissing the case or dismissing the party’s requests. If the agreements to the divorce are uncontested, then the signed agreement is presented to the court and the divorce will be finalized. When the parties cannot come to an agreement, other instruments such as mediation can be implemented. If the parties still cannot come to an agreement then a judge will make a decision concerning the dissolution.
Property will be divided between the spouses. A general rule of thumb the court uses is that assets, debts, and other financials will be distributed equally (or 50/50). However, the court strives to distribute property equitably and fairly, not necessarily always equally. There are circumstances that can cause assets to not be distributed equally, such as the contribution to the marriage by each spouse or the duration of the marriage. Your lawyer can determine if you can qualify for more or less than the 50/50. After equitable distribution, alimony may be awarded. The court may grant alimony to either party. Alimony may be permanent or temporary.
The court may, at any time, require either parent to pay child support, or in some cases both parents. In almost all cases, child support is terminated on the child’s 18th birthday. The court will issue a child support amount, a schedule for when child support is to be paid, and the month, day, and year when child support terminates or is reduced.
When determining parental rights with the child (custody), the court will look to the best interests of the child. The court considers all relevant factors in determining the best interests of the child such as:
Any suitable permanent custody arrangement with a relative of the child (this does not weigh in as a factor against termination of parental rights); the ability and disposition of the parent or parents to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under state law instead of medical care, and other material needs of the child; the capacity of the parent or parents to care for the child to the extent that the child’s safety, well-being, and physical, mental and emotional health will not be endangered upon the child’s return home; the present mental and physical health needs of the child and such future needs of the child to the extent that such future needs can be ascertained based on the present condition of the child; the love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the child and the child’s parent or parents, siblings, and other relatives, and the degree of harm to the child that would arise from the termination of parental rights and duties; the likelihood of an older child remaining in long-term foster care upon termination of parental rights, due to emotional or behavioral problems or any special needs of the child; the child’s ability to form a significant relationship with a parental substitute and the likelihood that the child will enter into a more stable and permanent family relationship as a result of permanent termination of parental rights and duties; the length of time that the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity; the depth of the relationship existing between the child and the present custodian; the reasonable preferences and wishes of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference; the recommendations for the child provided by the child’s guardian ad litem or legal representative.
In cases where domestic violence is taking place, a court may issue an injunction preventing a spouse from having contact with another spouse. An injunction is a court order that requires a party to do something or refrain from doing something. There are temporary injunctions and permanent injunctions. In Florida, to file an injunction a person must have been the victim of domestic violence or must have a reasonable belief that he or she is in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence.
Attorneys’ fees and costs vary amongst attorneys. The more complex and more contested the issues are during a divorce, the more the cost will be. Generally, a lawyer can give you an estimate for what the divorce will cost based on the information you provide him/her during your initial consultation. Sometimes the court will order your spouse to pay part or all of your fees and costs. Contingency fees (which is when the lawyer’s fee is based upon a percentage awarded to client) are illegal in divorce cases.