A contested divorce is when the spouses do not agree on all or some of the issues related to the Divorce – Issues related the minor children, marital property, marital assets, marital debt, spousal support (“alimony”), etc.
In Florida, only one spouse needs to file for Divorce. The parties do not need to be in agreement. This spouse is called the “Petitioner” by the Court. All pleadings (documents) will reflect that the filer of the Divorce (Petition for Dissolution of Marriage) is the Petitioner and the other spouse is the “Respondent”.
Step One: Filing for Divorce
In Florida, the divorce process begins with the filing of the “Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage”. The Petitioner (one of the spouses) files the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the Court (the Petitioner’s Formal Letter to the Court telling the Judge why they want the divorce, the basis for divorce and what they want the Judge to order as a result of this divorce, regarding all the issues related the minor children, marital property, marital assets, marital debt, etc. ).
There is a Court Filing fee in Florida for filing for Divorce. At the moment the fee is around $409. There are waiver applications, available at the courthouse, for the court filing fee or a payment plan for those that qualify.
Very Important: Whatever is not plead (asked for) in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (Letter of Divorce to the Judge), you may NOT ask for later. Your requests will be limited to your Petition. However, an AMENDED Petition may be later filed, before the case is set for trial.
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Step two: Service of initial pleadings
The Respondent is Served with the Pleadings (Initial Divorce Documents) by an Official Process Server (usually County Sheriff or a certified private service process server).
(Respondent may also waive Service of Process if he/she is represented by an Attorney. In that situation, the Respondent’s Attorney may accept Service of Process on behalf of the Respondent.)
Initial Divorce Pleadings (“Documents”) may include, but are not limited to the following, depending if there are children of the marriage or not:
Step Three: Answer. counter-petition and affirmative defenses
The Respondent has 20 days to file a Response, a Written Answer with the Clerk of Court, wherein he/she Admits (“Agrees” with) each statement made by the Petitioner or Denies (“Doesn’t agree with”) each allegation of the Petition.
The Respondent may also choose to file their Own Counter-Petition for Dissolution of Marriage telling the Judge what they want the Court to order.
The Respondent may also file Affirmative Defenses with their Answer to Petitioner’s Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
STEP FOUR: FAMILY LAW FINANCIAL AFFIDAVIT and Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure/Waiver of Mandatory Disclosure
Each party must file at a minimum a notarized Family Law Financial Affidavit with the Clerk of Court within 45 days of filing the Petition of Divorce and deliver a copy to each other. Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure/Waiver of Mandatory Disclosure is also required.
STEP FIVE: DISCOVERY PROCESS
In addition to the Family Law Financial Affidavit, each party may and should exchange Financial Discovery, such as Request for Production, Standard Family Law Interrogatories, etc., Subpoenas and/or Depositions can be taken of the other spouse. This is called the Discovery Process.
In addition, if the case is a little more complex and sophisticated (i.e. high-net-worth divorce, case involving businesses, complex finances, mental issues, etc.) parties may choose to hire various experts to assist with the discovery process and ultimately testify at trial, if need be. Expert witnesses have the necessary education, training, expertise, and experience to be relied on for their opinion by the attorneys and Judge in the case.
Experts may include but are not limited to the following: forensic accountant, therapist/psychologists, guardian ad litem, property and real estate experts, vocational expert, etc.
Topics addressed by these methods of Discovery may include but are not limited to the following:
STEP SIX: DIVORCE MEDIATION
After the parties have exchanged and concluded their discovery, both spouses are encouraged to attend Mediation (if spouses cannot settle their marital issues, some Courts even require it prior to trial). In Florida, participating in Mediation is a requirement, if the parties are unable to resolve and settle their disputed issues on their own. This process gives the parties a meaningful opportunity to reach a settlement agreement on their disputed issues without litigation while still retaining control of the outcome.
STEP SEVEN: FINAL HEARING
If the spouses were able to resolve and settle ALL their issues at Mediation, then the case has transformed into UNCONTESTED divorce status and will be set for Uncontested Final Hearing, where the Judge will officially divorce the couple by signing a Final Judgment. At this hearing, only the Petitioner must attend and it is usually smooth, short and painless.
STEP EIGHT: TRIAL
If spouses did not settle their issues at Mediation, then the Court will set their divorce case for Trial, where a Judge will decide all the contentious issues of the case (or the issues that were not settled at mediation). Trial Date will be considered the Final Hearing.
At Trial, the Judge will hear testimony from both parties, witnesses and make a decision based on all the evidence and testimony presented. At this point, a third party, a stranger to you and your spouse, the Judge will make a decision regarding ALL issues related to the marriage, such as: marital property, marital debts, marital assets, spousal support (alimony), issues related to the minor children from the marriage (parenting plan, time sharing, parental responsibility, child support, etc.)
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