Many social and religious organizations offer counseling services at reasonable rates. Your family law attorney may refer you to someone who can counsel you individually or together with your spouse. Some counseling services are free, and some services are offered on a sliding-scale basis related to your ability to pay. You may go to civil court yourself without an attorney to petition for an injunction to protect yourself against domestic violence. You may retain the services of an attorney to represent you in the domestic violence civil action if you so choose.
There may be local legal aid programs and organizations that can provide legal assistance for free or at a reduced rate. For local legal aid organizations in your area, you may visit FloridaLawHelp. Also, you should contact the office of the clerk of the circuit court in your county or a local domestic violence shelter for information.
Dividing Property in a Florida Divorce
Florida is one of the many states that have abolished fault as a ground for dissolution of marriage. You must prove 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. The reason for the irretrievable breakdown, however, may be considered under certain limited circumstances in the determination of alimony, equitable distribution of marital assets and debts, and the development of the parenting plan.
The parties, facts and circumstances in each case are unique; therefore, outcomes can differ from case to case. The dissolution of marriage process can be highly emotional and traumatic for couples as well as their children. Spouses often do not know their legal rights and obligations. Court clerks and judges can answer some basic questions but cannot give legal advice.
Only an attorney can provide legal advice. Statutory requirements and court rules must be strictly followed, or you may lose certain rights permanently. The Florida Bar recommends you obtain the services of Florida family law attorney concerning legal questions, which include discussions regarding your rights and responsibilities in a dissolution of marriage.
Those who wish to dissolve their marriage in an amicable manner with the assistance of trained professionals may wish to explore the collaborative dissolution process. The collaborative practice of law is a voluntary dispute resolution process that can begin at any time before or after a party files a petition for dissolution of marriage with a court.
In the collaborative practice of law, both parties and their attorneys sign a collaborative participation agreement that describes the nature and scope of the matter; the parties voluntarily disclose all relevant and material information; the parties use good faith efforts to negotiate; and the parties may engage joint neutral mental health and financial professionals to assist with their negotiations.
Should the collaborative process be unsuccessful in whole or in part, the parties must discharge the attorneys and other professionals and begin a contested dissolution proceeding through the court. If you would like more information about the collaborative practice of family law, you should search for a collaboratively trained family law attorney near you. There are two ways of filing in a Florida court for a dissolution of marriage. The regular dissolution process begins with a petition for dissolution of marriage, filed with the circuit court in the county where you and your spouse last lived together or in a county where either party resides.
Either spouse may file for a dissolution of marriage.
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The petitioner must allege that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The petition sets out what the petitioner wants from the court.
The other spouse must file an answer within 20 days of being served, addressing the matters in the initial petition, and can choose to include a counter-petition for dissolution of marriage raising any additional issues that spouse requests the court to address. Court rules governing a dissolution of marriage 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 several days before any temporary hearing.
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 guidelines worksheet also must 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. Mediation is a procedure to assist you and your spouse in working out an arrangement for reaching an agreement without a protracted process or a trial.
Its purpose is not to save a marriage but to help divorcing spouses reach a solution and arrive at agreeable terms for handling the break-up of the marriage. Many counties have public or court-connected mediation services available. Some spouses agree on some or all of the issues before or after the petition is filed.
Parties who have reached an understanding as to their desired outcome s enter into a written agreement that is signed by both parties and then presented to the court. Parties who do not yet have a written agreement but have reached an understanding also may appear for a final hearing with a suggested settlement that they ask the court to accept and incorporate into a final judgment. In such uncontested cases, a dissolution of marriage can become final in a short amount of time.
Reaching an agreement empowers parties to create terms with which they are more likely to comply rather than leaving decisions up to a judge. Each party will present evidence and testimony to the judge during the final hearing, and then the judge makes the final decision on the contested issues.
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Certain couples are eligible to dissolve their marriage by way of a simplified procedure. This type of dissolution was designed so the services of an attorney might not be necessary.
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Spouses are responsible, however, for filing all necessary documents correctly, and both parties are required to appear before a judge together when the final dissolution is granted. You can retain an attorney to represent you even in an uncontested matter. The cost for such services is generally much less than in a contested case.
Not everyone can use the simplified procedure. Couples can use the simplified dissolution of marriage only if all the following requirements are met:. If you and your spouse cannot meet all of the above requirements, you will have to follow the procedure of the regular dissolution of marriage process.
There are substantial differences between a simplified and a regular dissolution of marriage. In a regular dissolution, each spouse has the right to examine and cross-examine the other as a witness. With a simplified dissolution, financial information may be requested by either party, but disclosing financial information is not required. It is the public policy of Florida to ensure that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or the marriage is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of child-rearing.
In most cases, parental responsibility for a minor child will be shared by both parents so that each retains full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child. Shared parenting requires both parents to confer so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly. The court will determine any or all of these matters if the parties cannot agree.
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In very rare cases, the court can order sole parental responsibility to one parent. To do so, the court must determine that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child. In determining parental responsibility, the court will approve or devise its own Parenting Plan, which includes responsibility for the daily tasks of child-rearing, the time-sharing schedule, and decision-making authority relating to health care, school and related activities.
The plan also will specify any technology that will be used for parent-child communication. The parents may agree on a Parenting Plan and submit it to the court for approval, or the court will determine these issues. The statute includes a list of factors for the court to consider in making these decisions. Florida law requires both parties to attend a parenting course before entering a final dissolution of marriage.
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Some courts require children of parents going through dissolution of marriage to attend a class specifically designed for them. One of the most difficult and complex areas of dissolution of marriage is the division of assets and debts. Assets may include cars, houses, retirement benefits pensions and k plans , business interests, cash, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, personal property and other things of value.
There are two types of assets and debts in Florida — nonmarital and marital.
Generally, any asset or debt acquired during the marriage is considered marital and subject to distribution. The parties also may have assets or debts that are considered nonmarital and should be awarded to only one party.
Although the court must begin with the presumption that all marital assets and debts are to be divided equally 50 percent each between the parties, the court may distribute the marital estate fairly or equitably not necessarily equally between the parties, regardless of how title is held. A court decides equitable distribution before considering alimony.
Equitable distribution is based on a long list of factors the court is required to consider.
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