What Are the Steps in the Process of a Divorce?

Miami Divorce Lawyer Explains The Divorce Process in Florida

No divorce is easy; however, at Miami Family Law Group, PLLC, we have tried to lay out the process as simply as possible to take some of the burden off our clients' shoulders. To speak directly with one of our Florida divorce attorneys, call 305-520-7874.

Deciding to Separate

The first phase of a divorce does not involve the legal system quite yet, but it is centered around reaching a firm decision to separate from your spouse. Considering a divorce is a serious matter, and before you decide to go through the process, you need to be certain that separation is what you want and need.

Deciding to separate from your spouse may be a slow process or a sudden decision, but it is essential to be confident in this judgment before continuing to the bureaucratic steps of making it a legal separation.

Determine the Grounds for Divorce

Divorce laws vary across states, but when it comes to Florida, fault-based divorce is not an option. Essentially, Florida is a no-fault state, which means that couples are not given the option to legally put the blame onto one another via fault-based claims. Fault-based divorces in other states can be a method to gain a larger share of the assets, alimony, marital property, or child custody in a divorce, but in Florida, this is not an option.

However, Florida's no-fault divorce statutes do not imply that domestic violence or other harmful behavior is not recognized by the courts. Florida courts can still issue protective orders to the affected victims in divorce cases if supplied enough evidence.

So, considering the no-fault approach to Florida divorce, what are the options? There are two common paths to filing for a Florida divorce: irretrievable breakdown or mental illness.

Irretrievable Breakdown

A large percentage of divorces in Florida are filed as irretrievable breakdowns. This means that the marriage has reached a point where the couple is not able to get along or maintain the relationship. Regardless of what led to the irreconcilable differences, this route to divorce can express that you want the marriage to end immediately.

However, even if both spouses agree to these grounds for divorce, there is no guarantee that a judge will grant the divorce directly. More evidence may be needed, and a judge may prolong the divorce process if minor children are involved, one spouse contests the divorce, or the judge believes the marriage is salvageable.

The court may order the pair to work through their differences in couple's counseling sessions or other similar approaches if the court sees that it is necessary for the well-being of either spouse or the children involved. Although it is less common to see a divorce denied by a judge, it is a possibility.

Mental Illness

Under Florida statutes, a spouse can claim that their partner is mentally incapacitated as a reason for divorce. However, the requirements for these grounds are specific and not easy to meet. The requirements include:

  • The spouse that the claim is made against must have been considered mentally incapacitated for at least three years before the filing of the divorce petition.
  • A court-appointed committee must conduct an assessment and ultimately report that the individual is indeed mentally incapacitated as claimed by the spouse.
  • After a report has confirmed the mental state of the one spouse, a notice must be sent to their closest relative or guardian making sure all parties are aware of the divorce proceedings.

If your divorce is granted on the grounds of mental illness, it is probable it will result in paying spousal support to the mentally incapacitated spouse.

Filing the Divorce Petition

Once you have decided to dissolve the marriage and determined what grounds you will be separating on, it is time to prepare the petition for divorce. To formally initiate the divorce, one of the spouses must complete this petition.

Before taking any more steps towards filing the petition, you first need to check that either you or your spouse meet the residency requirement for Florida. This means that one spouse must have been a resident in Florida for at least six months before filing for divorce.

If residency requirements are no problem, the petitioner can move on to obtaining the divorce forms from the court clerk of the county where they live.

The petition should include all relevant information regarding the marriage and the divorce, such as your assets and debts and any children involved along with the terms of the divorce such as child custody, child support, spousal support, and property division. When you file, there is a fee that you should be prepared to pay.

Serving Your Spouse

Serving your spouse the divorce papers may be the most notorious step in the divorce process, but it is a simple procedure when done correctly.

Serving the petition is the part of divorce where you notify the "respondent" (your spouse) that a divorce is underway. This can not be done via mail, email, etc. It must be done in person. Depending on the relationship with your spouse, there are multiple ways you can go about this.

If you are on good terms, the responding spouse can accept the service of the papers ahead of time by filling out a notarized waiver of service form. In the case you are not on good terms, or even on speaking terms with your spouse, you may need to seek help from a third party such as the sheriff's office in your county or a certified process server.

It is crucial that you serve the papers properly. Otherwise, the petition could get stuck in limbo until it eventually gets dismissed by the court.

Response to Divorce Petition

Once the divorce papers have been served, the ball is in your spouse's court. The respondent has 20 days to respond formally to the petition for divorce. Otherwise, the case could continue as a default divorce.

After receiving the petition, it is likely the other spouse is feeling a surge of emotions. However, they must now carefully review the divorce petition to comprehend what terms, allegations, and requests have been made by the petitioner. It is best for the responding spouse to seek legal aid to assess the divorce petition and formulate an adequate response.

This response, also known as an answer, should address each major point made in the petition, so both spouses have an opportunity to make their cases. This may involve counterclaims, requests for support (spousal support or child support), custody of children, and any other relevant terms for the divorce. A response should be thought over carefully, as it sets the stage for potential negotiations and resolutions for the contested issues.

The formal response must be filed with the court, and a copy needs to be served to the petitioner.

Discovery Process

The discovery process is the stage where both parties can gather the necessary information to support their claims. This stage normally begins following the submission of the petition and answer.

Discovery can involve getting information from third-party sources or directly from the other party in the case. The methods used can include interrogatories, requests for production, subpoenas, or depositions.

Florida courts allow 30 days to respond to such discovery requests unless both parties agree to an extension. If either spouse denies a request, then the countering spouse may file a motion to compel in court as a formal order for the requested information. If the motion to compel is similarly ignored or rejected, then a motion for contempt can be issued by the court, which can lead to criminal penalties for the noncompliant spouse.

The discovery process is a crucial part of compiling evidence, which can ultimately have a large impact on the terms of divorce and help you defend your rights and secure your claims.

Mediation and Settlement

In most of Florida, divorce mediation is not only encouraged but required by the courts before a divorce can be finalized. Divorce mediation typically involves a trained, neutral third party assisting in the discussion between the parties in a divorce in order to reach a settlement that satisfies everyone's wishes and needs.

However, do not confuse this process as a meditator taking charge of the negotiation. It is still necessary for both parties to advocate for themselves when making decisions.

In this process, the pair will be given a chance to talk over their issues, concerns, needs, and requests involved in the divorce proceedings. This is where you can discuss how you will figure out child custody, support, or what will be divided among your marital and separate property.

If an agreement can be reached, then a settlement can be put into writing and signed by both parties, making it a legally binding contract and moving towards the finalization of the divorce.

Mediation can be a cost-effective way to handle divorce, and it can save you and your former spouse the time and the stress of confronting a trial. However, mediation may not be an option for everyone, especially in cases where domestic violence or other harmful behaviors were committed. Discuss your case with an experienced divorce attorney to determine if mediation could be a realistic option for your divorce case.

Parenting Plan

If any minor children are involved in the divorce, a parenting plan is required under Florida law before the divorce can be finalized. If parents fail to produce a parenting plan on their own, the court may devise a parenting plan for them, which will strip the parents of control in this life-alternating and legally binding arrangement.

This plan will be composed of custodial terms along with child support arrangements. The details of a parenting plan may include how the parents will divide the responsibility of care, time spent, where the child will live, which school the child will attend, and how the parents will communicate with the child and each other in this new situation.

With the importance of parenthood in mind, this plan deserves the maximum consideration from both parties. Child custody is generally determined by what is seen as the best interests of the child if parents are unable to reach a fair and reasonable agreement on their own.

It is recommended to establish a parenting plan outside of court to maintain control of the terms and make customized arrangements that suit you, your former spouse, and your children best.

Heading to Trial (if Necessary)

Going to trial is typically a last resort in a Florida divorce, as Florida mandates mediation and negotiation before leaving decisions up to a judge. However, there are situations where the couple may still be incapable of agreeing on the main issues. In this case, the divorce can head to trial, and the final decisions will no longer be in the couple's hands.

In the circumstance that the couple cannot reach a resolution through alternative methods, it is time to get familiar with how divorce proceedings are conducted.

Before the trial, both parties should build their cases by collecting any and all relevant information and evidence to support their requests and claims. This can extend to gathering financial records, testimonies, reports, and documents related to the marriage, children, and divorce process.

When the trial date arrives, the courtroom proceedings will commence. During the trial, both spouses will have the opportunity to present their case before a judge. Ultimately the judge will make a decision on the contested issues at their own discretion and according to Florida divorce laws.

The court will then assert a final judgment which will include the final terms of the divorce. A divorce trial can be seriously time-consuming, costly, and emotionally challenging for those involved. This process tends to affect more than just the separating couple, and it can become a burden to the children, extended family members, and friends entangled in the case.

Whether you are worried your case may end up in divorce court or you are determined to avoid a divorce trial, it is best to consult with a lawyer experienced in family law to help you sidestep this drastic measure.

Final Judgment

The final judgment, or divorce decree, can be considered the official stamp that marks the end of the marriage dissolution process. This decree is a legal order given by the court that explains the divorce terms in full.

The judge signs this decree, making it fully legally binding and enforceable by law. The divorce decree should cover all topics related to the divorce such as:

  • Property division
  • Alimony
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Parenting plan
  • All other related legal issues like name changes, tax obligations, etc.

Once this final judgment has been issued, the divorce is officially finalized, and you and your family can focus on moving forward with your lives.

Timeline for a Florida Divorce

Each divorce case is unique, and cases can range in complexity and duration. The factors of a divorce can greatly affect the predicted timeline, so consulting with an experienced divorce attorney is your best bet for understanding how long your case may take.

The timeline for a Florida divorce can range from a few months to over a year. In the case that your divorce is uncontested, and the grounds and terms are accepted by both parties, it is likely the timeline will be on the shorter side. However, if your divorce contains multiple contested issues, serving the papers proves difficult, or court dates are missed by either party, the duration can seriously prolong and leave you waiting for a divorce decree for far longer than you may have imagined.

Regardless of the intricacies of your case, working with a lawyer can speed this process, and it can help you, your former spouse, and all those involved move onward more quickly.

How Can a Divorce Attorney Help You

The divorce process is a heavy one for everyone involved, but alongside the emotional burden of divorce comes some complex legal requirements and procedures. If handled incorrectly, these issues can add to the stress and emotional toll that a divorce process can take. However, working with an experienced family law attorney can help you navigate your divorce process and give you the peace of mind that you are on track with all potential requirements and deadlines.

The steps to divorce can get tricky, and each stage of divorce has its own intricacies to face. Yet, no one in Florida knows divorce law as well as trained divorce attorneys, and our team at Miami Family Law Group, PLLC can guide you through every step of the process, from divorce paperwork, negotiations, mediation, and all the way to court representation if a trial ensues. With legal aid by your side, you can feel confident that you are making informed decisions with your and your family's best interests at the forefront.

Contact Our Miami, FL Divorce Lawyers

Here at Miami Family Law Group, PLLC, our attorneys have years of practice in Florida divorce and family law. Not only are our attorneys familiar with Florida divorce laws, but we are well versed in all other family law topics extending to child custody, property division, prenuptial agreements, and essentially any legal area that may come up in your own divorce proceedings.

Whether you are considering separating from your spouse, are in the midst of the divorce process, or want to address divorce questions immediately, our law office can provide the answers you need. Learn how you can defend your rights in divorce today. Contact us at 305-520-7874.

Contact Miami Family Law Group, PLLC

Our attorneys are ready to help address your legal needs. Schedule an appointment by calling 305-520-7874 or contacting us online.

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