For many couples, the prospect of divorce is daunting. The media often portrays the divorce process as a lengthy, drawn out court battle that takes a financial and emotional toll on all parties involved. While in some cases this may be an accurate representation of what happens when divorce turns ugly, in most cases, the process of divorce is much simpler. In fact, many cases can even be resolved without the couple having to appear before a judge at all.
Of course, no divorce is “easy,” and every divorce can be emotional and complex. Fortunately, there are several options for couples contemplating divorce, including the option of choosing uncontested or contested divorce, mediation, or collaborative law. Each of these options will be tailored to the individual needs of the couple seeking divorce.
No-Fault Florida Divorce
Chapter 61 of Florida’s legal statutes sets out the legal terminology and definitions of divorce in greater depth. Florida is one of many states classified legally as a no-fault divorce state. Exactly as it sounds, no-fault means that as long as one spouse can show that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” a divorce petition can be filed. There are no lengthy disputes over proving infidelity, poor behavior, unfavorable actions, or misjudgments when filing for divorce in a no-fault state. Instead, the couple simply has to state their intent to dissolve the broken marriage.
The Divorce Process
Some attorneys recognize the acronym PEACE when organizing a divorce petition. PEACE stands for parenting issues, equitable distribution, alimony, child support, and everything else. Depending on the type of divorce chosen, these important factors in the divorce process may be resolved in different ways. In an uncontested divorce, the couple will discuss and agree to terms before the divorce petition is filed with the help of attorneys. In contested divorce cases, a judge makes the important decisions after each spouse pleads their individual case before the court. Uncontested divorce is often less time consuming and less expensive, though not all couples will qualify for this form of divorce. Couples with complex assets, those who cannot agree on property division, or those struggling to form a parenting plan on their own may find taking the case to trial to be the best option.
Mediation and collaborative law are both similar to an uncontested divorce, but are even more private and often allow the parties to avoid the courtroom altogether. Mediation can be managed by attorneys or certified mediators who act as objective third parties to the divorce process. Mediators are valuable when discussing difficult matters and often are a source of supportive guidance throughout the divorce process. Similarly, collaborative law offers couples the option of working together to find amicable and equitable resolution to divorce matters.
Once an individual or couple decides to file for divorce there are several important areas of family law that they can expect to discuss and resolve, such as:
- Alimony/Spousal Support - Florida law recognizes several forms of alimony including rehabilitative, durational, permanent, and bridge the gap. Alimony orders are based on a number of factors and may be subject to legal statutes in Florida. Alimony and spousal support are terms often used interchangeably. In many cases, the term spousal support is used in reference to a temporary arrangement whereas alimony is used in reference to long-term or permanent arrangements.
- Child Custody and Visitation - Also known as timesharing in Florida, child custody and visitation is one of the most sensitive aspects of divorce. The goal of creating a parenting plan for custody and visitation is to keep the best interests of the child or children first, while forming a fair and equitable agreement between the divorcing parents. Factors influencing child custody and visitation include the distance between each parental home, which parent has been the primary day-to-day caregiver, where the child is in school, and the desire of each parent to be directly involved in the rearing of the child.
- Child Support - Florida courts determine child support orders based on several factors and the history of both parents. Common factors include income, earning ability, overall physical and mental health, the health of the child or children, and alimony awards. Florida utilizes a system for determining a fair amount of child support and providing guidelines for enforceability. If one parent experiences a change in financial situation, lifestyle, or an employment change, a petition to modify the child support order can be filed with the court by either parent.
- Property Division - Florida is an equitable distribution state, meaning that during divorce, assets and debts are divided equally between the divorcing spouses. There are, of course, circumstances that may alter this basic principle, such as the presence of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, which outlines property and asset division in detail.
For couples choosing to pursue an uncontested divorce, both spouses must be able to discuss, agree, and outline the details of property division, child custody and support, and alimony without dispute. If the couple cannot agree, then the case will be classified as contested and will proceed to the courtroom at which time each spouse and their legal representatives will present their case before the judge.
While Florida law does outline a great deal of what is expected in the divorce process, the system still relies on Common Law to fill in areas where Chapter 61 has gaps. There are many precedent setting cases at the disposal of Florida attorneys allowing for a truly tailored approach to divorce, no matter what type of petition is filed. Divorce is a very personal, individualized process and there is no “cookie-cutter” resolution that will fit every divorce case. No couple should have to face the complexities of divorce on their own. Fortunately, with the right legal support, full disclosure, and a little patience, divorce can be settled amicably.
To get answers to your divorce questions, call our office today to set up a free consultation with an experienced Gainesville Divorce Attorney.