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ABOUT DIVORCE:                                                                               

About Divorce: From the Florida Bar Consumer Pamphlets site: In Florida, a divorce is called a “dissolution of marriage.”

Florida is one of the many states that have abolished fault as a ground for dissolution of marriage. The only requirement to dissolve a marriage is for one of the parties to prove that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Either spouse can file for the 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. Outcomes in a dissolution of marriage include, among other things, the division of assets and debts, awards of spousal support, awards of child support, and decisions on parental responsibility and/or time-sharing schedules. There is no “one-size-fits-all” or “standard” dissolution of marriage in Florida.

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. A knowledgeable attorney can analyze your unique situation and help you make decisions in your and your children’s best interests.

Beginning the court proceeding:

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. 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.

Automatic financial disclosure:

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. 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 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:

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 counties require spouses to attempt mediation before a final hearing (also known as “trial”) can be set. To learn more about mediation, you may visit Florida Courts website: http://www.flcourts.org/resources-and-services/alternative-dispute-resolution/mediation.stml.

Formalizing settlement terms:

Some spouses agree on some or all of the issues before or after the petition is filed. Issues may include the division of property, a parenting plan, spousal support, child support or attorney’s fees. 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.

Contested final hearing:

Finally, some spouses cannot agree on all issues, so a final hearing (or “trial”) is required. 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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