How Does the Divorce Process in Florida Work?
While the divorce process in Florida is second nature to us, it is one of the most common questions that we are asked on a daily basis. It is important that you understand the process, so you know what to expect while going through a divorce.
Once you decide to move forward with a divorce, the attorney drafts the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage along with the other initial documents. Your spouse is then served with the Petition and allowed 20 days to respond to the divorce Petition. The parties must then exchange financial affidavits and mandatory disclosure within 45 days. Mandatory disclosure includes tax returns for the past 3 years, pay stubs for past 3 months, 3 months of checking account statements, 12 months of savings account statements, deeds for real estate that you have owned for the past 3 years, loan applications for the past 12 months, statements for any brokerage accounts for the past 12 months, most recent statement for any retirement plans, life insurance policies, health and dental policies, and credit card statements for the past 3 months.
Once the parties exchange financial affidavits and their mandatory disclosure, they normally must attend mediation. Mediation is a process where the parties attempt to negotiate and settle the issues regarding their divorce with the assistance of a mediator. The mediator is not a judge and has no authority to make any decisions or rulings. The mediator’s sole purpose is to facilitate the negotiations between the parties. Typically, the parties will begin the negotiations in one room, but will quickly split off into separate conference rooms, while the mediator goes back and forth to assist with negotiating a settlement. If an agreement is reached, the parties will draft the marital settlement agreement and, if the case involves children, a parenting plan. The parties will execute the agreement at the mediation. While most cases are resolved during a single mediation session, some cases may take two or three mediation sessions prior to reaching an agreement. Most family law and divorce cases resolve at mediation or through settlement negotiations shortly thereafter. Only about 3-5% of cases actually result in trial in front of a judge.
When the parties are unable to resolve their case through mediation, the only remaining alternative is to proceed to trial. In divorce and family law cases, the trial is in front of a judge, not a jury. The trial judge will hear testimony from the parties, witnesses, and experts, along with the argument from the attorneys. Most divorce trials are document intensive as there will be many documents, which must be submitted as evidence to establish your case. Typically, divorce trials will last between one to two days depending on the issues that must be resolved and the number of witnesses to be heard. At the end of the trial, the Judge will ultimately make a decision and enter a Final Judgment.
While some cases must proceed to trial, most people prefer to resolve a case at mediation. Mediation allows for the parties to maintain control over the outcome and their future. At trial, a judge makes decisions for your family after hearing only a few hours of testimony. Typically, the trial court’s ruling is not favorable to either party and both spouses leave disappointed. Mediation also allows the parties to be more creative and craft agreements that judges otherwise would not be allowed to order. Judges are required to operate within the confines of Florida Statues. The parties at mediation, typically, have more latitude to craft creative solutions, which are outside of the confines of the letter of the law.
In the event that your case is resolved at trial, there is also the possibility that one party appeals the judgment. An appeal is where a panel of three judges review the work of the trial court judge to determine if there was any legal error or a possible abuse of discretion. The appellate court does not take testimony, but only reviews the trial court’s record. If one party pursues an appeal, it may take an additional one to two years to finally resolve your case.