The decision to divorce is not an easy one. We know that it can be difficult to reach that point of seriously considering divorce as an option. We want our clients to consider counseling and reconciliation before starting to formalize their divorce. If you are ready to move forward with divorce, we hope you will consider our firm to assist you. If you have these or other family law questions contact our St. Pete, Florida law firm today.
What does the Divorce process look like?
- File your paperwork with the Court. The first step to finalizing your divorce is to file the paperwork with the Court. This is through paperwork called the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. In addition to the Petition, you must also submit other papers discussing your finances and children, if you have any.
- Serve your spouse. After you submit your paperwork to the Court, the Clerk will provide a Summons, which is a document that must be served on your spouse. You cannot serve your own spouse, you must hire a process server. An alternative to hiring a process server is to have your spouse agree to accept the paperwork without a process server. Your spouse must complete a Waiver of Service in order to accept the paperwork without a process server.
- Answer and Counter-Petition. Once a process server has officially “served” your spouse, your spouse has 20 days to provide a formal response to the Court and to you or your attorney. That formal response is known as an “Answer”. Additionally, if you or your spouse want to ask for things that were not addressed in the Petition, a Counter-Petition should be filed. Some reasons you might file a Counter-Petition include a request for alimony or a request to change your name. If no Answer is provided to the Court within 20 days (plus an additional 3-5 days for mailing), you can request a Default from the Court.
- Default. A Default is granted when your spouse has been served and has failed to provide a formal response to the Court within the 20 days. You must request a Default from the Court. If you receive a Default, you may move directly to the Final Judgment phase of the Divorce process. If you did not receive a Default, you must continue the process and begin to gather and prepare your financial documents.
- Gather and prepare your financial documents. In all divorces, the Court will want to review your finances. This will require you to gather your financial documents. Your financial documents will include your proof of income (paystubs, Social Security Award letter, etc), bank statements, proof of debts you owe (car note, mortgage statement, credit card bills, etc), and proof of assets that you own (title to cars, title to boats, deed to a house, etc). After collecting the financial documents, you must submit a summary of those documents to the Court by completing a Financial Affidavit.
- Case Management Conference. The Court will most likely hold a Case Management Conference where both parties may attend. This will provide an introductory meeting between you, your spouse, any attorneys you have, and the Judge. The Judge will try to get a better understanding of the case: Do you and your spouse intend to resolve the matter quickly? Will Mediation be helpful or successful? Do you have children? How much wealth/assets need to be divided by the Court? Will alimony be something the Court will need to decide? After the Case Management Conference (or “CMC”), the Court will most likely require Mediation between the parties.
- Mediation. The parties will be required to attend Mediation to attempt to resolve the issues before going further into the divorce litigation process. Mediation is where a neutral third party assists the parties in an attempt to settle or resolve as many issues as possible. A Mediator cannot make a decision or ruling; they are only there to facilitate discussions between the parties.
- If the Mediation is successful in resolving ALL of the issues, then the parties can move to Final Judgment.
- If the Mediation is successful in resolving SOME of the issues, then the parties can return to the Court. A second CMC is likely. The Judge will want to know how many issues remain and how likely is it that the two of you can settle the issues or not. If you are not likely to resolve the issues, the Judge will set the remaining issues for trial.
- If the Mediation is NOT successful in resolving any of the issues, then the parties can return to the Court. A second CMC is required. The Judge will want to know if returning to Mediation will be helpful to the two of you to resolve the issues. If not, the Judge will set a trial.
- Trial. A trial can be an extremely costly and emotionally draining process. In order for an attorney to be properly prepared for a trial, they must review everything about your marriage. An attorney will review the income that you and your spouse made during the marriage. An attorney will need to interview witnesses. An attorney may need to take depositions of witnesses. An expert may need to be used to determine how much money a spouse should be making, especially if a spouse is unemployed. This review process is called discovery. Discovery not only takes time but will take money. You should consider whether you have the finances to support discovery and trial and whether you are emotionally able and whether you have the desire to drag the process out.
- Final Judgment. You finalize your divorce in the Final Judgment phase. There are only two ways spouses get divorced – either you agree with your spouse and resolve the issues yourselves OR a Judge makes the decision. Those are the only two ways. Most spouses are in a much better position to make decisions regarding their assets, their debts, and their family. Leaving that decision to a Judge, who has not met with you for an extended period of time, who does not know you, your spouse, or your children, could be a risky chance. You should strongly consider resolving as many issues as you can between you and your spouse.
What if my spouse and I agree on everything?
Congratulations! It is wonderful when two people can agree that things didn’t work out and move forward amicably. Your divorce will be “uncontested”, which means that you agree on everything. Our firm can assist you with completing all the paperwork that the Court will need to finalize your divorce. Our firm has been successful in completing “uncontested” divorces in 60-90 days.
How is Child Support calculated?
Florida courts have a very specific calculation as to how child support is calculated. Although you can find many child support calculators online, the official calculation comes from the Child Support Guidelines in Florida Statute §61.30. Child support is based off of the net monthly income of both parents. Other factors also come into play, such as which parent pays for health insurance and/or daycare and how much time each parent spends with a child.
What is a Paternity case?
A Paternity case is a family law case which deals with two individuals who were never married who share a common child. A Paternity case can resolve child support and timesharing issues. A Paternity case can also establish a formal Parenting Plan with the Court.
What is Equitable Distribution?
Equitable Distribution is the term that the Court uses to split up your assets and your liabilities. While there is this idea that everything should be split 50/50, that is not always the case. Many factors play into exactly how everything gets split up. You should speak with an attorney in order to discuss your particular case and how your assets and debts may get split up.
Do I need Counseling?
This is something we cannot answer for you. Many individuals gain from speaking to a licensed professional about their feelings. Even if divorce is the right choice for you, there may still be difficult emotions that need to be addressed. We would be happy to provide you a referral to a licensed professional who you could speak with. Additionally, if you have children, you may want to consider having them speak with a licensed professional. Children may sometimes internalize that their actions “caused” the divorce. A licensed professional can provide a safe place for children to share their feelings about the divorce.
What happens if my spouse files Bankruptcy?
Spouses and ex-spouses file bankruptcy for many reasons. We have represented clients in bankruptcy when their spouse or ex-spouse files for bankruptcy. You will need an attorney to represent your rights and to help you understand how your alimony, child support, or any agreements between you and your spouse or ex-spouse may be affected during the bankruptcy. Additionally, the filing of a bankruptcy case will freeze/pause any divorce action. It is important to understand your rights and what you can or cannot do during the bankruptcy.
Can I make any modifications to the Final Judgment or Marital Settlement Agreement?
One thing that many people are unaware of is that your first bite of the apple is the most important. If you attempt to handle a divorce case yourself, you may be unaware of the issues that must be dealt with the first time around. If you try to fix issues later or if you want to change something at a later date, your burden is going to be much, much higher and a Court may not be able to help you. You will need to show the Court that something substantial has happened that you could not foresee would happen at the time of the Final Judgment. Consulting with a lawyer and hiring a lawyer knowledgeable in Family Law is crucial.
Do I need an attorney to represent me in my divorce case?
Each person has a right to represent him or herself (“Pro Se”); however, the use of an attorney is recommended. Ignorance of the law may cost an individual far more than an attorney’s fee.
The benefit of hiring a lawyer is that a professional, with experience and knowledge of the Court system, will handle the bulk of the work for you. Our firm completes your paperwork, hires a process server, schedules Court hearings, and drafts the Final Judgment. You get to focus on you – focus on your career, your children, or your hobbies. We will handle the heavy lifting.
Note: Individuals who choose to represent themselves will not be able to obtain legal advice from court personnel.