24 Apr How to Divorce – An Overview of the Process in Florida
Navigating the divorce process requires many complicated steps and each case is bound to be different. Some will go smoothly, with two willing participants “sharing” an attorney that will end up signing the necessary documents. Other cases, however, might involve custody challenges, alimony, and other legal aspects that will require the advice of an experienced divorce attorney. Knowing how complicated your divorce may be is not always possible at the outset, so it is important that you seek legal counsel when you are merely considering divorce, in order to obtain an understanding of the “lay of the land”. Below, we will provide you with a brief overview and, hopefully, a better understanding of the process.
At the outset of the divorce, you must locate the proper jurisdiction in which you can petition for dissolution. In the State of Florida, and under most circumstances, you must have lived in the area you are currently at for a minimum of six months in order to file for divorce there. If your spouse is currently located in another state, you will still be able to file at your current location, as long as you meet the local requirements to do so.
Some people take the time at the beginning of the divorce in order to create a “divorce mission statement.” This will help you sort out your feelings and needs regarding the divorce. You can make clear-headed decisions, prior to the beginning of the potentially emotionally complicated process, about important issues, such as child custody, property and asset separation, and if needed, child support goals. In addition, you will want to build an extremely detailed document list that lays out the particulars of your bank accounts, real estate ownerships and more. Finding a lawyer that is both experienced and that you get along with is recommended for both this step and all steps from this point, on. In the long run, having a legal counsel that will be able to help you sort through the details of the procedure and the decisions that you have to make will help you develop this statement.
Once properly prepared, you will be ready to sit down with your attorney and fill out the official divorce papers and forms. In the paperwork that will be drafted, you (the filer of the divorce petition) will be referred to as the “petitioner,” and your spouse will be known as the “respondent.” The state of Florida is a “no-fault” state, and the reasoning for the divorce is simply stated as “irreconcilable differences.” That is, we do not have to detail exactly what caused the divorce in your petition.
After this, your attorney will be drafting a series of petitions, discovery, motions and other paperwork, including the Petition, Summons, Financial Affidavit, Marital Settlement Agreements, Parenting Plans, etc.. It is of utmost importance that your attorney reviews each one of these files with you before going to file them. It can save you hours of costly and frustrating time pursuing appeals.
After you have gone through each of the filings with your attorney, we will prepare them for notarization. of this step. Next, we will “eFile” and serve all of the required documents and remit court filing fees to the proper Circuit. Family courts require that you pay a filing fee. The amount varies from state to state, but currently hovers around $419 (including Summons issuance). If your financial situation makes it difficult to pay the fee, we will provide you with some paperwork that will help us get the fee waived.
Now that your paperwork has been filed, and you have paid your fees, we “serve” the divorce paperwork to your spouse. Unfortunately, you may not serve divorce papers personally to your spouse unless they sign a “Waiver of Process”. If they will not do so, we simply hire a process server. After your divorce paperwork has been served; the process server provides us with an “affidavit of service” that must be then filed with the court clerk. As with other sensitive documents, you should always have your attorney check the “proof of service” document in order to ensure it has been filled out correctly.
At some point during the divorce (unless waived) you must complete a Financial Affidavit. These documents are a simplified financial statement that will help ensure that the court and your spouse have a complete understanding of your current situation. Along with the affidavit, we must usually also provide certain documentation, such as tax returns from the last three years.Both you and your spouse will be required to complete the financial disclosures.
From this point on you will be working to officially complete the divorce, finalizing it in the eyes of the law. If you are lucky enough to have your spouse agree on the divorce conditions that you have presented to them, your attorney will reduce them to a writing known as a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA). This will be signed and notarized by both parties and then submitted to the Court for approval.
While not common, in some cases, the judge will not approve the MSA and you may be required to attend a hearing to work out details regarding the divorce, including any detail the judge recommends be amended.
As you may suspect, these last steps do not always go as smoothly as expected. For instance, if you or your spouses are divorcing over situations such as adultery, criminal convictions or other sensitive legal matters, you may have spend more time in court arguing over child custody issues in the parenting plan. Child custody and support debates, as well as disputes over financial assets, are the most common issues we run into. These can turn into lengthy legal battles that may have you in and out of court for more than a year.
Hopefully, you will never have to dive into the messy and complicated legal body of water that is divorce proceedings. Divorce has the potential to affect every aspect of your life, both personally and financially. However, if divorce is inevitable, you can now be assured that you have some base information to help you along the way. While this guide presents all the basic facts and timelines, there are many specific details that are best left in the hands of an attorney. Many states have specific guidelines that may affect the outcome of your divorce hearings, and in some cases you may have to meet specific guidelines in order to file the divorce in general. Sitting down with a professional should always be your first step in any legal matter as sensitive as divorce.