Florida is one of the many states that has abolished fault as a ground for divorce. This law lessens the potential harm to the husband, wife, and their children caused by the process of divorce. All that is required is that the marriage be "irretrievably broken." Either spouse can file for the dissolution of marriage. All that has to be proved is that a marriage exists, one party has been a Florida resident for six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition, and the marriage is irretrievably broken. (There is another, little-used ground: the incompetence of one's spouse for at least three years preceding the petition for dissolution). Fault, however, may be considered under certain circumstances in the award of alimony, equitable distribution of marital assets and liabilities, and determination of how much time the children will spend with each parent.
Each divorce case is unique and therefore results vary. Even though fault is not an issue in granting the dissolution, the division of property and possessions, responsibility for support, and the time sharing of children may become contested matters.
The divorce process is highly emotional and traumatic for everyone it touches. Marriage partners often do not know their legal rights and obligations. Court clerks and judges can answer some of your basic questions but are prohibited from giving legal advice. Only your lawyer is allowed to do that. Statutory requirements and court rules must be strictly followed or you may lose certain rights forever. It is recommended that you obtain the services of an attorney concerning legal questions, your rights in a divorce, your children's rights, your property rights, your responsibilities resulting from the marriage or tax consequences. A knowledgeable lawyer can analyze your unique situation and can help you to make decisions in the best interest of you and your family.
The dissolution process begins with a petition for dissolution of marriage, filed with the circuit court by the husband or wife, which states that the marriage is irretrievably broken and sets out what the person wants from the court. The other partner must file an answer within 20 days, addressing the matters within the initial petition and raising any additional issues the answering party desires the court to address.
Court rules governing divorces require that each party provide certain financial documents and a completed financial affidavit to the other party within 45 days of the service of the petition or before any temporary relief hearing. Failure to provide this information can result in the court dismissing the case or not considering that party's requests. The parties or the court can modify these requirements except for the filing of a financial affidavit, which is mandatory in all cases in which financial relief is sought. A child support guideline worksheet must also be filed with the court at or before any hearing on child support. This requirement may not be waived by the parties or the court.
Some couples agree on property settlements, time sharing of the children, and other post-divorce arrangements before or soon after the original petition is filed. They then enter into a written agreement signed by both parties that is presented to the court. Other couples disagree on some issues, work out their differences, and also appear for a final hearing with a suggested settlement which is accepted by the judge. In such uncontested cases, a divorce can become final in a matter of a few weeks.
Mediation is a procedure to assist you and your spouse in working out an arrangement for reaching agreement without a protracted process or a trial. Its purpose is not to save a marriage, but to help divorcing couples reach a solution to their problems and arrive at agreeable terms for handling their dissolution. Many counties have mediation services available. Some counties require couples to attempt mediation before a trial can be set.
Finally, some couples cannot agree on much of anything and a trial-with each side presenting its case-is required. The judge makes the final decision on contested issues.
Reaching a settlement, whether by direct negotiations or mediation, usually requires compromise by both parties. Attorneys have learned it is unrealistic to expect both partners to be "happy" with their divorce. The experience can be emotionally devastating. The financial upheaval of supporting two households instead of one causes hardship for the entire family. The parties, however, can take steps to make the process easier for themselves and their children.
CAN YOUR MARRIAGE BE SAVED?
Before you take any legal steps to end your marriage, you should make sure that you have tried all possible ways to save it. Do you want professional help in working out ways to save your marriage? Many communities and social and religious organizations offer counseling services either free or on a sliding fee scale. Or you may wish to consult with a marriage counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, minister, priest, rabbi or other qualified person. Your attorney may also refer you to someone who can counsel you and your spouse.