The Regular Divorce Process
A divorce commences when one of the parties files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (indicating the relief that he/she wants) and has it served on their spouse. The other spouse has twenty days from the day he/she was served to file his/her response to the Petition and, if he/she wants, to file a counter-petition for dissolution of marriage requesting the relief that he/she wants. If a counter-petition for dissolution of marriage is filed, then the party who initiated the divorce action has twenty days to file his/her response to the counter-petition.
After the pleadings are concluded, the next step is to obtain the information necessary to engage in meaningful settlement discussions and, if necessary, prepare for trial. Parties in a divorce case involving any kind of financial relief have an automatic obligation to provide the other side with mandatory disclosure, including a financial affidavit. Although the parties can agree to waive mandatory disclosure, the obligation to provide a financial affidavit cannot be waived. In addition to mandatory disclosure, the parties may request additional discovery from the other party and, in certain circumstances, from third parties such as from a party’s employer. If children are involved, then child support guideline worksheets must also be filed with the Court and this obligation cannot be waived. Depending on the county in which the case is pending, the parents may have to complete a parenting course and the minor children may have to complete a course designed for children.
After the initial pleadings have been concluded, the next step is to attend mediation or engage in settlement negotiations. Some counties, such as Broward County, require the parties to attend mediation before a trial can be scheduled. A mediator is a neutral third party who does not provide legal advice to the parties but, rather, who is charged with the task of helping the parties reach an agreement. If the parties agree to all or some of the issues, they can enter into an Agreement. Any issues that are not resolved by agreement of the parties will be decided by the Court. At the end of the case, regardless of whether the case was resolved by agreement, trial, or a combination thereof, the Court will enter a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage that legally declares the parties divorced and sets forth the relevant terms and conditions.
The Simplified Divorce Process
Florida also has a simplified divorce procedure that is available in cases where there are minimal issues and the parties have reached an agreement on key matters. In order to qualify to for a simplified divorce, all of the following requirements must be met: (1) the parties agree to proceed with the simplified divorce procedure, (2) the parties were legally married; (3) the parties agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken, (4) either party has been a resident of Florida for at least six months prior to the filing of the divorce action; (5) the parties have no minor or dependent children that were born of (or adopted by) the marriage and none are expected, (6) the parties have reached an agreement as to how they will divide all of their assets and debts; (7) neither party is seeking alimony; (8) the parties are willing to give up their respective rights to a trial and an appeal, (9) the parties have filed financial affidavits or have waived that requirement because they are satisfied with the financial disclosure they received, and (10) both parties are willing to go to the final hearing at the same time.
If the requirements for a simplified divorce procedure cannot be met, then the parties will have to follow the regular divorce process.