40 to 50% of all people who get married for the first time end up getting divorced. For second marriages, the rate is higher still. Divorces are sometimes awkward and complicated while being emotionally draining. For couples with children, there is the added concern of the welfare of their kids.
Divorce proceedings are stressful for all involved. The longer they linger, the longer you have to deal with the negative emotions. Most couples just want the process to be done with as quickly as possible. Being well prepared helps you to be done faster and get on with your new life.
Florida residents are just as likely to counter divorce procedures in their life as people from anywhere else in the United States. All states have unique divorce guidelines and laws. Floridians should have an idea about how divorce processes operate in the state and how they should navigate through them.
In Florida, residents are required to undergo legal proceedings for divorce, which can consist of seven main stages. The procedures more or less stay the same, irrespective of whether or not one has children.
The seven stages involved with divorce proceedings in Florida:
Stage 1: Filing the Petition
When a couple intends to get divorced, the first step is filing a petition. The spouse who files the divorce petition is known as the petitioner, while the other is the respondent.
The petition needs to be filed in a circuit court of the location where a married couple last cohabited, or where one of them currently resides.
Within the petition, the petitioner should include the claim that the marriage has been irretrievably broken. It should also include the petitioner’s expectations from the court regarding the matters it wants the court to determine or decide.
No preferential bias is given to the petitioner or the respondent. The filing party is known as the petitioner merely for identification.
All forms required for the divorce proceeding are available at the Florida Court Website. However, if you don’t know how to fill them out, you can use online divorce services like https://www.onlinefloridadivorce.com/ to get your printable forms.
Stage 2: Filing the Answer
Following the petitioner’s filing for the dissolution of marriage, the respondent is required to file his/her answer to the petition within 20 days after being served with a copy of the documents.
In the answer, the respondent discloses the following information to the court:
- The portions of the petition that the respondent accepts or is in agreement with the petitioner;
- The portions of the petition that the respondent does not find himself/herself in agreement with the petitioner or declares as false;
- The portions of the petition that the respondent expresses his/her unawareness regarding the claims.
During the answer stage, the respondent has a choice to include a counter-petition regarding the marriage’s dissolution. In the counter-petition, the respondent can bring other matters to light before the court. When such an event occurs, the original petitioner is required to present a response to the counter-petition. The necessary forms and court documents for the process are available at the Florida Court Website.
Stage 3: Filing the additional paperwork
Following the filing and answering of the petition, the court will require additional paperwork, involving the assessment of all individual issues. It helps with making decisions that are well-informed and based entirely upon the merits and facts in the particular case.
Before going to the court, a couple may choose to close joint accounts and prepare for the division of marital property.
The forms most commonly required by Florida courts are:
- Financial Affidavit – The parties must file financial statements within 45 days after the petition is filed. It should declare liabilities, assets, expenses, and income.
- Child Support – If there are minor children involved, the court requires the child support guidelines worksheet to be filed.
- UCCJEA Affidavit – If there are minor children involved, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) Affidavit needs to be filed. This is even if both parents are agreed over time-sharing.
Stage 4: Discovery
In most cases, the financial affidavit mentioned above wouldn’t provide complete coverage of all the parties’ financial details and information. A few other disclosures are also mandatory. They can include:
- Other investment Account Statements
- Retirement Account Statements
- Bank Statements
- Credit Card Statements
- Proof of Income
- Tax Returns
- Proof of Other Debts
The discovery serves the purpose of letting either party avail the right to know the relevant financial information associated with the other party. Both parties should deliver full disclosure. This is accomplished by answering questions under oath or producing the requested supporting documents.
Stage 5: Mediation
In most areas across Florida, a couple contending for a divorce is bound by the law to mediate for resolving issues. Meditation brings with it a range of advantages for divorce processes in Florida:
- Impartiality – the mediator does not take sides. Instead, he listens to each side and offers feedback that is professional and experienced.
- Self-Determining – A mediator will not make decisions. Instead, he discusses alternatives and makes suggestions and advice available.
- Confidentiality – barring cases of child abuse or similar serious matters, all matters discussed during mediation stay confidential.
- Avoid Judicial Decisions – By avoiding the risk of a judge delivering a decision that you do not like, a couple is empowered to reach an amicable agreement.
- Saves time and expenditure – Since mediation processes do not last for as long as a trial, one saves time and money.
In the event wherein one of the spouses has been victimized by domestic violence, this stage can be skipped entirely.
Stage 6: Parenting Plans
If the couple seeking divorce has minor children, a parenting plan must be submitted to the Florida divorce court. The Florida Statute Title VI, Chapter 61, Section 13, encourages parents to share rights, responsibilities, and joys of rearing their children. The monthly income of each parent will be one of the defining factors for child support payments. As per the statute, a parenting plan has to mention the following information:
- Schedule – Details of how time-sharing will be implemented. It should involve regular scheduling and alternating holidays.
- Task Sharing – An agreement that discusses sharing the responsibilities for raising the children.
- Decision making – One of the spouses will be entrusted with the responsibility of being the children’s guardian. He/she will be authorized to make important decisions regarding such things as education and healthcare.
- Parental Communication – This will involve an explanation of how the parents are going to maintain communication.
Before the Florida court gives orders for the dissolution of the marriage, the divorcing parents will also need to attend a parenting class.
Stage 7: The Trial
The trial is associated with divorces where issues cannot be resolved between the spouses. The trial is scheduled before a judge, wherein no jury is involved. It is only for unresolved issues following mediation.
This is a formal legal procedure, and this stage for divorce processes in Florida should be treated with the utmost respect. One should dress appropriately for a court appearance, be polite throughout the trial, and address the judge as sir, ma’am, or your honor. The judge will listen to both parties, while witnesses and cross-examinations will be permitted. All evidence brought to the court will be reviewed.
Both parties will get an opportunity to present their concerns and case. If there are matters that a couple fails to reach an agreement upon, the judge decides for them.
For spouses agreeing on all matters, completion and filing a marital agreement settlement becomes crucial. It highlights agreements about the following areas:
- Parenting plan
- Child Support
- Property Division
- Attorney Fees
The agreement should be signed and notarized by both spouses. It will be presented for the judge to review at a final hearing.
After the trial or final hearing, the judge will enter the final judgment.
The information mentioned above helps to clarify and make the divorce process easier to follow. But if your case is contested or you are unable to reach an agreement on all issues with your spouse, a professional divorce lawyer may be necessary to represent your interests in a court. By achieving success in the case, they ensure that the proceedings stay hassle-free for your children.