If you are contemplating divorce, chances are that your life is a little complicated at the moment. In addition to the emotional stress, you have been worrying about all the legal issues that you will inevitably have to deal with. Where do you begin? Divorce, also known as dissolution of marriage in Florida, is highly regulated. Here we provide you a synopsis of some key issues relating to divorce that are governed by Florida law.
First Things First
To initiate the divorce process, one must file a “petition for dissolution of marriage” with the appropriate court in the correct venue. The correct venue for filing the petition is either: 1) the county where the non-filing spouse resides; or 2) the county where the spouses last lived together prior to separating.
However, even before filing for divorce in Florida, there are few prerequisites and legal rules that must be followed. First, there must be a valid marriage as defined by Florida law. Florida no longer recognizes “common law” marriages entered into after 1967 as valid marriages for purposes of divorce.
Second, the court must have jurisdiction over the parties and the case must be brought in the right venue. At least on party to the divorce must be a resident of Florida for at least six months prior to the filing of the divorce. Non-U.S. citizens that are legal residents of Florida are able to file for divorce in Florida. To file for divorce, your must be a resident of Florida but whether one qualifies as a Florida resident is also governed by Florida law and determined by the court. To determine your Florida residency, the court will require one of the following documents: a Florida driver’s license; a Florida voter’s registration card; a valid Florida identification card; or the testimony or written statement of a third party verifying a person’s residency.
Third, the marriage must be “irretrievably broken” or one of the parties must be mentally incapacitated. The court determines whether the marriage is irretrievably broken based on a subjective analysis of the filing party’s petition. Finally, each party is required to provide his or her social security number and the full names and social security numbers of each of the minor children.
Believe it or not, even determining the best time to file a petition is influenced by Florida law. For example, when the petition is filed determines the “cut off” date for determining whether a particular asset or liability is considered “marital” or “non-marital.” This is important, because only marital assets are divided equally between the spouses upon dissolution of the marriage. Therefore if a spouse files the divorce petition before a particular asset or liability becomes a marital asset or liability, then that asset or liability will not be divided equally between the spouses. Likewise, in certain cases, the amount of alimony that will be awarded by the court in a divorce proceeding will also depend on when the petition is filed.
Costs and Attorney’s Fees
Florida law establishes a basic fixed filing cost, which may vary from year to year (e.g., $409 in 2015). However, It is not easy to predict how much the attorney’s fees will be since the amount of time required by each case varies significantly from case to case, depending on the facts of the case and the willingness of the spouses to cooperate with each other. Once a person presents their case and supporting documents to an attorney, the attorney will be able to give a better estimate of their fees. It is important to note that the court may order that one spouse pay the other spouse’s attorney’s fees incurred during the divorce proceedings based that spouse’s relative ability to pay for the fees.
Documentation and Privacy
Divorce proceeding papers filed with the courts are public record. The petition for dissolution and all subsequent documents filed with the court become publicly accessible information once filed. There are a variety of documents that must be filed in support of the petition for dissolution. Primary among these documents is the spouse’s financial affidavit, which is a sworn written accounting of each party’s income, expenses, assets and liabilities. The court will also require documents that support the financial information on the spouse’s affidavit.
Alimony, Child Support, Custody and Relocation
Alimony, child support, custody, and relocation are also key issues arising from a divorce that are resolved pursuant to Florida law. Alimony and child support are court-ordered payments from one spouse to the other spouse after separation or divorce. The eligibility, frequency and amount of these payments are determined by specific legal principles. Custody and relocation of minor children by either spouse is closely regulated as well and will be determined by the court based on the best interest of the child.
Divorce-related legal issues are very important and must be adequately and meticulously considered when contemplating a divorce. The effect of one’s legal decisions during the divorce process are long-lasting and far-reaching. This is where a good family lawyer becomes essential. The family law attorney that you choose to help you with these issues must not only be competent in the area of divorce law, but must also be sensitive to the unique complexities and difficulties you might be facing. A good lawyer will listen and help to put your mind at ease by ensuring that you make the best possible choices throughout the divorce process. I would be happy to walk you through these complicated and sensitive issues.