In order to dissolve a marriage, a court must enter a final judgment dissolving the marriage. Normally the judgment will address and resolve all issues between the parties including the dissolution of marriage, establishment of a Parenting Plan, the division of assets and debts, alimony, child support, and attorney’s fees and costs. Spouses can obtain this final judgment of dissolution of marriage through contested and uncontested means.
Parties who wish to dissolve their marriage in an amicable manner with the assistance of trained professionals may wish to explore the collaborative dissolution process.
The collaborative practice of law is a voluntary dispute resolution process which the parties can begin at any time before or after a party files a petition for dissolution of marriage with a court. In the collaborative practice of law, both parties and their attorneys sign a collaborative participation agreement that describes the nature and scope of the matter; the parties voluntarily disclose all relevant and material information; the parties use good faith efforts to negotiate; and the parties may engage joint neutral mental health and financial professionals to assist with their negotiations.
The goal of the collaborative process is for the parties to enter into a written settlement agreement which addresses all issues which may include a Parenting Plan, division of their assets and debts, alimony, child support, and attorney's fees and costs. Should the collaborative process be unsuccessful in whole or in part, the parties must discharge the attorneys and other professionals and begin a contested dissolution proceeding through the court.
If you would like more information about the collaborative practice of family law, you should search for a collaboratively trained family law attorney near you.
Dissolution Proceedings through the Court
If the parties choose to seek a dissolution of marriage, at least one of the parties must file a petition for dissolution of marriage in the circuit court in the county where the spouses last lived together or in the county where either spouse resides. Either spouse may file for a dissolution of marriage. The petitioner must allege that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The petition sets out what the petitioner wants from the court. The petitioner must serve the petition on the other spouse by a process server or Sheriff’s Department in the county where the other spouse resides. The other spouse must file an answer within 20 days of being served, that responds to the matters in the initial petition and, if he or she wishes, include a counter- petition for dissolution of marriage raising any additional issues the answering party requests the court to address.
There are rules governing a dissolution of marriage which require that each spouse automatically produce to the other spouse certain financial documents and information within a certain number of days of when the process server served the petition on the recipient spouse. Each party must complete and file a detailed financial affidavit and a certificate of compliance with mandatory disclosure.
Mediation is a procedure to assist you and your spouse in reaching an agreement without a prolonged process or a trial. Its purpose is not to save a marriage, but to help divorcing spouses reach a solution and arrive at agreeable terms for handling the break-up of the marriage. Many counties have public or court-connected mediation services available at a reduced cost. Some counties require spouses to attempt mediation before a final hearing (also known as “trial”) can be set.
Some spouses agree on some or all of the issues before or after the petition is filed. Issues may include the division of property, Parenting Plan issues, spousal support, child support, attorney’s fees and costs. Parties who have reached an understanding as to their desired outcome(s) enter into a written agreement signed by both parties that is presented to the court. Parties who do not yet have a written agreement but have reached an understanding may also appear for a final hearing with a suggested settlement which they ask the court to accept and incorporate into a final judgment. In such uncontested cases, a dissolution of marriage can become final in a short amount of time.
Reaching an agreement empowers parties to create terms with which they are more likely to comply rather than leaving decisions up to a judge.
Contested Final Hearings
Finally, some spouses cannot agree on all issues and a final hearing (or “trial”) is required. Each party will present his/her evidence and testimony to the judge during the final hearing, and then the judge makes the final decision on the contested issues.
Where to Find Additional Information
There are specialized rules of procedure for family law cases called the “Florida Family Law
Rules of Procedures,” which can be found on the internet, at the public library, at law libraries, and at law schools.
The Florida Supreme Court and the clerks of courts in many circuits throughout Florida have standard family law forms that people can use if they would like to represent themselves in family law proceedings. Some local legal organizations offer free forms clinics to assist parties who are representing themselves in family law proceedings. If you would like to find out more about this, you should contact the clerk of the circuit court for your local circuit.
Divorce proceedings are public proceedings, and the files are available at the courthouse for public review. Under certain limited circumstances, portions of the file may be sealed by order of the court. Proceedings before magistrates and hearing officers are automatically recorded and copies of the recordings can be requested from the clerk of the court in which the hearing was held. There is a fee associated with requesting the copy and you should contact your local clerk of court for a current fee schedule.