Clerks, judges, paralegals, and your spouse’s attorney cannot give you legal advice. Only you or your appointed attorney can represent your interests in your case. There are rules that, if not followed, can lead to the permanent loss of rights. Dissolution of marriage cases have lasting impact and can be extremely complicated. Although not required by law, it is in your best interest to hire an attorney to represent you.
In Florida law, divorce is known as “dissolution of marriage.” If you have no children, are not pregnant, agree on division of property, and no one is seeking alimony you may qualify for a “Simplified Dissolution of Marriage”. If you do not qualify for the “Simplified Dissolution of Marriage” then you can file using the other method which is called “Regular Dissolution of Marriage.”
Every case is different and dissolution of marriage cases can be particularly complicated. This is a broad overview of how cases generally proceed. There are many points at which something may complicate the progress of a case and this summary does not discuss every possible event. This is another reason it is important to have an experienced attorney representing you.
Step 1: Filing a Petition
A regular dissolution of marriage lawsuit is begun by one spouse filing a petition for dissolution of marriage. This is done in the circuit court where both spouses last lived together or where either one lives now. The petition must state that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” and explain what is being asked for from the court. Forms are available at www.flcourts.org. The person who files this initial petition will be known as “the petitioner” throughout the case.
Step 2: Filing an Answer
The spouse who did not file the petition has 20 days to file an answer from the time they are served with the petition. In an answer, the respondent (the spouse who did not file the petition) tells the court what parts of the petition s/he agrees with or admits are true, what parts s/he disagrees with or denies, and what parts s/he does not have knowledge about. Here, the respondent can include a counter-petition for dissolution of marriage and raise additional matters with the court. The petitioner would then have to file an answer to the counter-petition.
Step 3: Additional Forms to be Filed
-A financial affidavit has to be filed within 45 days of the petition being served.
-A child-support guidelines worksheet has to be filed before any hearing on child support.
-A form called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) Affidavit has to be filed in any case involving a minor child(ren) – even if you and your spouse have no disagreement about time-sharing.
Step 4: Discovery
In addition to the financial affidavit that must be filed with the court within 45 days of the petition being filed, there is other financial information that must be given to the other party in your case (but not filed with the case). These are known as mandatory disclosures and include things such as your tax returns, proof of income, statements regarding your debt, credit cards, bank accounts, and retirement accounts.
Both spouses have a right to find out information that the other party has about the case. In discovery both sides will have to reveal details about their finances, produce relevant documents upon request, and respond under oath to questions from the other side.
Step 5: Mediation
In most parts of Florida, you will be required to go through mediation to see if you can reach an agreement on those issues about which you have not already agreed. There is an exception if you are a victim of domestic violence.
Step 6: Parenting Plans
The court must approve of an agreed upon parenting plan or enter its own parenting plan with any dissolution where there are minor children. There are many factors that the court will take into consideration when establishing a parenting plan. In general, the law requires the judge to try to make sure that children have regular and ongoing contact with both parents. Both parents are supposed to “share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.” (§62.13(2)(c), Fla. Stat.)
Parenting plans are one of the issues about which you and your spouse can reach an agreement through negotiation or mediation. An agreement on a parenting plan can then be presented to the judge for approval.
A parenting plan has to include
1. how the parties plan to share daily tasks involved in raising a child/children;
2. a time-sharing schedule;
3. a decision as to who will be in charge of filling out forms for health care, school, and other activities; and,
4. how parents will communicate with the children.
If you have minor children the law in Florida also requires that both spouses attend a parenting class before the court can enter a final dissolution of marriage. The clerk of court near you can give you more specific information on when and where these classes are available.
There is a form available at www.flcourts.org to help you complete a parenting plan
Step 7: The Trial
The trial is known as a contested final hearing. If there are any things you could not agree about after mediation, a final hearing, or trial, will be scheduled in your case. This will be heard by a judge, not a jury. If you and your spouse can agree on some of the issues in your case, you should complete a marital settlement agreement for dissolution of marriage and file it with the court. A settlement agreement can include the division of property, a parenting plan, alimony, child support, and attorney’s fees. This has to be signed by you both and notarized.
At your final hearing the judge will hear from both sides. Each will be allowed to present evidence to the court, including testimony. The other party can cross-examine (ask questions of) witnesses. Be sure to bring any people that you want to speak to the judge. Dress neatly as you would for a job interview. Plan to get there early so that you can find parking, get through security, and find the right room. Do not interrupt and make sure to refer to the judge as “ma’am,” “sir,” or “your honor.” The judge will make a decision about any things not decided by you in the settlement agreement and enter a final judgment of dissolution of marriage after the hearing is complete. If you have minor children, there will also be a parenting plan approved or established by the court.
This is the general order of divorce filings in Florida. However, as noted, each divorce case is different and is subject to unique obstacles or setbacks. At the Tancredo Law Firm, we have been litigating divorce on our clients behalf for over 20 years. Whether you are considering divorce, already in the process, or unhappy with the results of a filing, allow our experienced attorney and staff to help you take your best next steps.
The Tancredo Law Firm has represented and assisted thousands of individuals with divorce in Florida over the past 20 years. Our experienced attorney and staff are standing by to help with your case. Feel free to reach out so we can begin working to find the best plan for you.
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