Steps of a Contested Divorce in Florida
In this article we’re going to lay out the steps for a contested divorce in Florida. A contested divorce means that the parties cannot agree on all or some of the issues. This means that a judge has to decide the issues, and there's a lot of steps to get to the point where the judge makes a decision. And even when the judge decides, if one party or the other decides to appeal the judge's decision, there is that option. It should be noted that the more issues that you can settle with your spouse, the less the judge has to decide and hence the need for less legal work and less cost. And of course, an uncontested divorce means that everybody agrees on everything from the beginning, and everybody cooperates. That situation will lead to a quick, inexpensive divorce.
Steps for a Contested Divorce in Florida
So here are the steps of a contested divorce in Florida:
1. The attorney conducts a thorough interview where issues such as the party's debts and property are discussed. The attorney will also inquire about the need for alimony for a party, which basically means one party has a need for financial assistance and the other party has the ability to give that financial assistance. The amount and length of the alimony is of course a major topic to discuss. If children are involved there needs to be a discussion about time sharing. We don't use the term custody anymore. The issue is how much time each parent will spend with the children. And then of course there's the issue of which party will pay the other child support. Child support is mostly based on the parties' incomes and how many overnights each parent gets with the children during the year.
2. The attorney will then prepare a petition for dissolution of marriage. Dissolution of marriage is what divorce is called in Florida. (or if the petition has already been filed by the other party, the lawyer will file an answer to the petition and possibly a counter petition. A counter petition will be filed if there are topics that the client needs addressed that we're not addressed in the original petition.)
3. Then next of the steps of a contested divorce in Florida, the attorney will advise about what financial documents are required by court rules to be provided to the other party. (Financial affidavit indicating income, assets, expenses and debts, bank statements, tax returns, pay stubs, 401K statements brokerage account statements, credit card statements and the like.) And the other party must provide their financial documents to the client as well. In the meantime, while the case is going on, if one party or the other needs a court order for something in particular, a court hearing for temporary relief can be scheduled. This may be a request that the other party pay child support or alimony while the case is going on. Or one party may ask the court to order that they get to see their kids if the other party is impeding that. Or other things may be requested such as an order that the other party stay away from them, or remove themselves from the home, if they are causing trouble.
Florida Contested Divorce Steps
4. Once the financial affidavits documents are exchanged between the parties and each party knows the financial condition of the other, the parties will, in all likelihood, go to mediation in order to try and settle their case and avoid an expensive trial. A neutral party, usually an attorney or a retired judge, will mediate to try to bring the parties together to an agreement. The mediator has no authority to enter any orders or require anything, they are just there to try to help the parties settle. Nothing discussed at mediation can be told to the judge. (unless for example threats are made or something goes on in terms of behavior that needs to be addressed)
5. The parties can also schedule the deposition of the other party. This means that the other party would have to answer questions about issues pertaining to the marriage such as property, debt, child related issues, support issues, income and asset issues, etc under oath in the presence of a court reporter. Taking a deposition helps the attorney know what the other party is going to say if there's a trial. It also usually locks the party into their version of events because it's very hard to testify to one thing during a deposition and something different at trial.
6. The lawyer can also subpoena records. So, for example, if one party is not turning over their documents as required by the rules, or if the lawyer wants to see bank account statements to understand what income and assets a party might have, a subpoena can be sent to the bank and the bank would have to honor it and turn over records of the other party. (if a party refuses to turn over documents required by the rules, that can be addressed by the court such that a subpoena may not be necessary)
Steps for a Contested Divorce in Florida
7. Of course, each case is different, and the lawyer may have to take other steps permitted by the court rules to thoroughly investigate matters and be able to present evidence to the court regarding a particular issue. One example of this might be that one party says the other party has an alcohol or drug problem and is not fit to have time with the children. In that case there may be a need to have an evaluation ordered by the court of the party in order to see the extent of their issues.
8. So coming to the last couple of steps for a contested divorce in Florida, we get to the issue of settlement. The parties can always settle among themselves, even during trial and before the judge rules. But if they cannot settle, there will be a trial. A trial is a very big deal. There are a lot of procedural rules that the parties have to follow in order to go to trial. For example, each party usually needs to provide the other side with a witness list indicating who will testify for them and what the witness is going to say. And the lawyer will likely need to provide the other side with the documents that they intend to bring to trial to prove to the judge the issues in the case.
And usually the judge requires some sort of summary of the issues in the case to be presented to them before trial so that they will be aware of what the issues are. The rules of evidence at trial are very strict and a skilled lawyer will know how to navigate those rules. Evidence will be presented on each issue and that evidence may be testimony of a party or witnesses. Or it may also be documents presented to the court in order to convince the judge of whatever it is the party is trying to prove. (Florida divorce cases are heard without a jury and the judge makes the final decision.)
9. The best bet is to try and avoid a contested divorce if possible. You don't have to agree to give the other side everything they want, but sometimes it's better to compromise than to face the decision of a judge that perhaps neither party will be happy with. Sometimes it's better to control your own destiny than to leave it in the hands of a third party who has limited time to understand the issues. And certainly, uncontested divorces are far less expensive and time-consuming and aggravating than contested divorces. For assistance with a contested or uncontested divorce in Florida, please feel free to contact attorney Arnie Gruskin at 800-999-0119. He has been practicing divorce law in Florida for 42 years.