Divorce is complicated, especially if you have children. You and your spouse must determine how to split your property, whether one of you will get financial support, and how you will co-parent your children. You must confront these complex and emotionally charged topics.
Working with an experienced family attorney can smooth the process. A Fort Lauderdale divorce lawyer can learn your goals, explain what the law requires, and help you achieve a fresh start.
Procedural Requirements for Starting a Divorce Proceeding
Florida Statutes § 61.021 establishes the residency requirements for divorce. One of the spouses must live in the state for at least six months before either can file for divorce. In addition, the spouse must have lived for six months in the county where the divorce petition is filed. So, if a spouse moved to Florida from out of state and spent several months in Miami before moving to Fort Lauderdale, they could not file for divorce until they lived in Broward County for six months.
The filing party must cite a legal reason or grounds justifying the divorce. Florida offers only two grounds for divorce: the marriage is irretrievably broken, or a spouse has been mentally incapacitated for at least three years. Both are no-fault grounds, which means that one spouse does not have to prove the other committed misconduct.
One spouse files a petition for divorce and supporting paperwork at the Broward County Circuit Court, paying a filing fee and arranging to serve the document on the other spouse. The respondent has 30 days to answer the petition and the court schedules a hearing when it receives an answer.
Uncontested versus Contested Divorce
Spouses who agree about all relevant issues—property division, debt allocation, alimony, parental responsibility and time-sharing, and child support—could file for an uncontested divorce. Couples might negotiate with each other or work with a mediator or through their Fort Lauderdale divorce attorneys.
When the couple has a signed settlement agreement and parenting plan (if they have children), the petitioner submits it to the court. There is a mandatory 20-day waiting period before a court can issue a divorce. If the couple are parents, they must both complete a parenting class and could receive their divorce decree within four to six weeks of filing, depending on the court’s schedule.
If the couple has not agreed on the relevant issues before the petitioner files divorce papers, the couple has a contested divorce. The court will oversee the process of discovery, which requires the spouses to disclose financial information to each other and divide their property. They usually continue negotiations while the discovery process unfolds and most will settle their divorce before going to a trial. If there are topics they cannot agree on, the court will schedule a trial and a Judge will decide.
Making Co-Parenting Arrangements
Florida law presumes that children benefit from close relationships with both parents. The courts expect parents to share parental responsibility, which refers to the right to make decisions about education, healthcare, religion, and similar issues. Judges also expect parents to share physical custody, meaning the children will spend significant time living in each parent’s home.
Parents must develop a parenting plan that describes how they will share physical custody and parental responsibility. They should decide how they will handle transportation, holidays, travel out of state or out of the country, and how they will share information and resolve disagreements with each other. A Judge must confirm a parenting plan is in the children’s best interests before granting a divorce.
When one parent feels the other is unfit, they should discuss their concerns with a Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney. Restrictions on parental responsibility or timesharing are possible if there is evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, untreated mental health or substance abuse disorders, or similar concerns. When a parent raises these issues, the court often appoints a Guardian ad Litem or custody evaluator to assess the situation.
Understanding Financial Settlements in Divorce
Florida is an equitable distribution state. Any property or debt either spouse acquired during the marriage is marital property regardless of whose name is on the title or registration. Couples must divide their property equitably when they divorce. In most cases, equitable distribution means as close to 50/50 as possible.
However, courts consider many factors when deciding what is equitable. If one spouse cheated or wasted marital assets, they might receive less property. If one spouse gave up their career and focused on child-rearing and supporting the other’s success, that person might receive the family home, even if it is the couple’s biggest asset.
A spouse who will not have the means to support themselves could request alimony, of which there are a few different types. A Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney can explain how Judges decide on these important issues.
Work with a Fort Lauderdale Divorce Attorney Today
Do not try to handle a divorce without counsel from a seasoned legal professional. Divorce has far-reaching emotional, financial, and legal consequences and you should not leave any part of it to chance.