Filing for Divorce

Are You Sure You Want to Begin Filing for Divorce?

We’re here to help, but before we help you to understand the different approaches to divorce in Florida, it seems worthwhile to pause for a few minutes and speak of the enormity of the decision you face before filing for divorce. It may feel like your marriage is hopeless today; however, the finality of a divorce lasts a lifetime and carries with it consequences that will affect your spouse, children, extended family, and friends. There is no way around it – divorce is a painful, emotionally draining, financially expensive, and difficult experience that even with the best approaches can have a long lasting impact on you and the other members of your family. Divorce will affect your life: financially, emotionally, and through impacts to your quality of life.

Of course, some marriages are destined to end due to chronic physical or emotional abuse, repeated infidelity, incompatible goals or morals, issues of addiction, or other major changes in circumstance. But think about it for a moment: are you absolutely sure your marriage is destined to end in divorce? Are you sure you want to begin filing for divorce?

The decision you face will deeply change the lives of your children. Research seems to suggest that children of divorce are at statistically greater risk for emotional and physical problems throughout their lives. These possible impacts cut across all socio-economic groups. For your children’s sake, divorce must be the last resort. Do not hasten to a decision. Ask yourself if you’ve made sufficient efforts to see if your marriage can be saved before you start the divorce process.

It is fair to say that there is not one single cause of divorce, but rather that all divorces are the result of changes in the behavior of the spouses. Everyone grows all the time and in different ways – both positively and negatively. Time itself causes change as society’s views exert their influence on life and marriage. Over time you and your spouse will evolve, mature, and approach your life with different perspectives than those you started with. This is a natural course, it is inevitable. However, it is how these changes and new perspectives are made a part of the marriage, that ultimately either strengthen a marriage or give rise for a divorce.

Can Your Marriage be Saved?

You may not be able to honestly ask yourself this question while in the midst of what appears to be a disintegrating relationship; your problems and issues may seem insurmountable. If your marriage is conflicted and you are interested in saving it, you may wish to seek the help of an individual marriage counselor to help you resolve the question. When emotions are heated, a calm, rational discussion to identify the roots of your marital problems can be impossible to approach a spouse with. Finding a good individual marriage counselor may help you to save your marriage or, at the very least, save you the months or years of anguish while trying save your marriage on your own without the clarity of professional help.

Getting Help

Our Law Firm will be happy to make recommendations of good counselors. Please contact our office at 561/478-0312 or use our online form.

Divorce Process in Florida and the West Palm Beach Area

How do I get a Divorce in Florida?

In Florida, you can get a divorce simply by asking, you do not have to prove fault. As a matter of fact, you do not have to prove anything as to a cause with one exception; the little used grounds of incompetence, where one spouse is deemed incompetent for at least three years preceding a petition for divorce. However, in Florida your residency matters. You do have to show that one of the parties has resided in Florida for at least the six months preceding the filing of a petition and the marriage must be irretrievably broken and unsupportable with no possibility of reconciliation.

Filing for divorce starts with a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in the county in which one of you resides. The party that files is called the Petitioner and the other party is called the Respondent – unless the parties agree to file as Joint Petitioners. If children are involved, a suit to determine parent child relationships and support is included in the petition for divorce. Additionally, divorcing parents of children are required to take a Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course approved by the Judicial Circuit in which they file (in Palm Beach County – 15th Judicial Circuit).

There are basically two types of divorces, contested and uncontested. Uncontested means that everything is agreed to by the parties, including but not limited to child parent relationships and support. A contested divorce is where one or more issues cannot be resolved between the parties and the Court has to decide these issues. Otherwise in a contested divorce, the parties must reach a settlement through any number of a variety of approaches and submit their agreement to the court for a final judgment.

Gathering and Organizing what you Need to Build an Agreement

Both spouses have a right to obtain complete information about important issues in their case, and about the assets and liabilities of each other to determine the financial disposition of the marriage. The legal process that describes this is called discovery. Discovery can be quite simple if both parties can agree to voluntarily provide requested information to each other. If the parties are adversarial with each other, it can be time consuming and costly. When one or both of the parties are not cooperative then formal discovery processes are required, including depositions and written requests for admissions, documents, and disclosures.

Filing a Petition for Divorce in Florida

After it is filed with the court, a notice of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage must be served upon the Petitioner’s spouse (the Respondent). If you know where your spouse lives, you should use a personal service. The person who delivers the notice must be a process server or a deputy sheriff. In cases where your spouse is out of state, you would still use a personal service to provide notice of the petition through a service local to your spouse’s location. In an event where the whereabouts of the spouse is unknown or if your spouse is out of the country you may use constructive service. Additionally, if your spouse is in the military service of the United States, additional steps may be required. When a spouse cannot be located through constructive service an Affidavit of Diligent Search and Inquiry is required. The law regarding constructive service is complex and you may want to consult with an attorney to make sure you fulfill the requirements of the law. When constructive service is used, other than granting a divorce, relief may be limited.

After the Petition has been Filed and Served

In Florida, a spouse served with a Petition for Divorce has 20 days to respond. The case will proceed based on the nature of the response received from the Respondent. If there is no response, the Petitioner can file a Motion for Default and set a final hearing with the Clerk of the Court. If the Petition for Divorce is uncontested and all mandatory discovery has been met you can set a final hearing with the Clerk of the Court. A contested response may also include a counter-petition. Contested responses will either lead to a settlement process or litigation through the courts.

The Cost of Divorce in Florida

It is usually much less expensive to have an uncontested divorce, since the need for legal work and advice may be considerably less. If you can’t afford an attorney to represent you for your case, or if you have agreed on all of the issues, you might consider the limited use of an attorney to guide you procedurally and review your paperwork prior to filing – the benefit you receive is legal advice and the assistance of the law firm itself. In Florida as in many states the laws around divorce are often complex and depend on circumstance. You can divorce without the assistance of an attorney, however the courts do not provide any different rules to you for the improper filing of documents and/or meeting the court’s requirements, and this could cause considerable delay, and personal expense. Because the courts are themselves forbidden to provide legal advice, The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. and many other law firms in South Florida offer unbundled services for individuals representing themselves (Pro Se Divorce), which can give you the benefit of properly filing court documents, enable you to meet requirements, and save significant time while avoiding unnecessary expense as well as the benefit of the legal advice and assistance of a law firm.

Contested divorces, by their nature, are more expensive. Because contested divorces require the building of a case (whether litigated in court or settled), most lawyers cannot do more than estimate what the total fees will be. In fact, the cost of the divorce will have as much to do with the position and emotional tone of your spouse and his or her attorney as your own position.

Most lawyers, and our Law Firm bill hourly for contested divorces. Many factors go into what a lawyer charges hourly, so be sure you understand the value of using one attorney over another. Like many professions, results are largely a factor of experience, length of practice, and specialization.

In Florida, the State Supreme Court directed The Florida Bar to offer a Board Certification program for Florida attorneys. While any licensed lawyer may handle marital and family law matters at different levels, only those lawyers who pass Board Certification are allowed to identify themselves as a specialist. The concept is similar to the medical profession; whereas a primary care physician serves as a generalist, but in cases where the diagnosis is specific as in hip replacement, you consult with an orthopedic surgeon or a specialist. Go here for more information on Marital and Family Law Board Certification in Florida

How to Protect Yourself During Divorce in Florida

Whether your divorce will be contested or uncontested, it is important that divorcing parties follow and agree to their expenses, finances, insurance and support while a divorce is pending. This can be done informally, through a negotiated or mediated agreement, or through a Temporary Relief Order. When ordered by the court, the Temporary Relief Order is binding and enforceable. Failure to follow a court ordered Temporary Relief Order could possibly affect the final judgment of your divorce. Temporary Orders serve to prohibit certain behaviors. Some examples might include:

  • Selling, hiding, transferring or destroying property;
  • Cancelling or altering insurance policies of any type;
  • Destroying or altering personal or business records;
  • Withdrawing monies from accounts for purposes other than normal living expenses, business expenses, or to pay court or attorney’s fees;
  • Removing your children from the state or hiding them;
  • Pulling children from their current school.

Pathways to Resolve Your Divorce in Florida

Conceptually the process of getting a divorce in Florida seems quite straight forward: file a petition, gather information to build an agreement, litigate or settle, receive a final judgment from the court. While the process conceptually seems straightforward… but as someone once said, “The devil is in the details.” And nowhere is this more the case than with the approach you take to reach an agreement or conclusion in your divorce. If you have any question as to the right approach for you, we recommend you discuss your options with an attorney. The following information is intended as general information only, and you should consult an attorney for specific legal advice for approaches to divorce in Florida or in any other State.

BARGAINING METHODS: All agreements are based on negotiation through bargaining. Specifically, distributive bargaining is the approach that is most often used when the parties are trying to divide something up, as is the case with divorce. You can explain this in terms of a pie: With distributive (or positional) bargaining the focus is on cutting the pie up, while trying to get as much of the pie for yourself. Within the practice of divorce we often refer to this as position based. As a party to the divorce you build a position based on evidence that entitles you to more of the pie. An alternative approach is known as integrative bargaining or an interest based approach. Interest based bargaining focuses on fulfilling needs so that the pie can feed everyone. Whether one party chooses to take an “adversarial” or position based bargaining approach, those using interest based arguments typically tend to prevail or at least weaken position based arguments. Most attorneys are trained in position based negotiations, since this is the construct used in most litigation. In the case of hiring an attorney where you seek creative problem solving, or when it is your intention to avoid litigation, you might consider retaining a Family Law attorney who has been formally trained in the interest based approach.

Following are some of the different approaches spouses can take for divorce in Florida:

Tabletop Approach:

This is what you have been doing your entire marriage. It consists of simple discussions or negotiations between you and your spouse. This approach works well for parties who have mutually reached a decision and have agreed in concept to a divorce. Couples who take this approach, generally have a high level of intra-personal communication skills and the issues they face in divorce are mostly functional and needs based as opposed to positional. Nevertheless, in many disintegrating relationships a limited window of opportunity exists during which couples may be able to discuss their issues in this fashion. This informal approach can be taken without the support of outside professionals or can benefit from unbundled services from mental health, financial, or legal professionals. Often those using this approach can file as Joint Petitioners and fast-track their divorce. [READ MORE >>]

Mediation:

In mediation, an impartial third party (the mediator) assists the negotiations of both parties and aids in the potential settlement of your case. However, the mediator cannot give either of you legal advice or be an advocate for either side. If there are lawyers for each of you, they may or may not be present at the mediation sessions. But if they are not present, then you can consult them between mediation sessions. When there’s an agreement, the mediator prepares a draft of the settlement terms for review and editing by both you and your lawyers. [READ MORE >>]

Collaborative Family Law:

Collaborative Divorce in Florida offers a less adversarial, shorter, and often less expensive, method for marriage dissolution. The Collaborative Approach requires both parties and their individual attorneys to commit themselves to resolving all issues of the dispute by negotiated agreement. The parties and their lawyers enter into a legal binding contract not to resort to going to court for any reason except to introduce their Agreement into evidence and obtain a Judgment. Litigation is not a part of Collaborative Divorce and the Collaborative Approach is applicable to all areas of Family Law. [READ MORE >>]

Litigation:

It is estimated that in the U.S. over 90% of divorce cases are settled. However, many of these divorces begin as contested. In other words, a settlement is only reached after lengthy and expensive trial preparation and positional bargaining. In the few cases that do get tried in a court, the financial and emotional costs can be extremely high. The contested matter is open to public scrutiny, which further adds to the emotional burden carried by the spouses. The option to go to trial is like the antidote to a snakebite… if you go into the woods and get bit you’ll want to have access to the antidote. Of course, you want to avoid getting bit in the first place. [READ MORE >>]

Tips For a Smarter Divorce

What you choose to do during and prior to your divorce can have huge consequences. Your divorce could proceed from relatively smooth to a knock-down drag out fight over things you thought inconsequential or not even noteworthy. So, there are some smart considerations that can help you to avoid pitfalls.

  • Even if you don’t end up hiring an attorney to handle your separation or divorce, you would be well advised to obtain as much information about the process as you can before you discuss divorce with your spouse. Although many individuals are able to resolve their divorces with little or no legal advice, there is no denying that divorce laws in Florida and elsewhere can be quite complex, confusing, and mystifying. There are many circumstances where legal advice can be critical, and hindsight doesn’t pay especially well in regard to the final distribution of marital assets – the final distribution cannot be changed or modified. The earlier you understand your options the better. Some early strategic decisions made with legal counsel can make a big difference in the outcome of your divorce.
  • Bear in mind that some behaviors and positions that you perceive as being merely rational, could possibly be construed as offensive. Prepare yourself for the chance that your divorce may become adversarial and that, for a while, your spouse will turn into a person you never knew existed. Setting reasonable expectations together, and early on, about the outcome of your divorce may help to avoid an adversarial divorce.
  • Do not move out of the family home until after you have talked to a lawyer. Even if you have agreed with your spouse to move out, you may lose the advantage or use of the house, access to equity, and it could cause the loss of parenting time with your children. Seeking out legal advice prior to leaving the home may protect your rights, and allow you to move out when it is reasonable. However, if you believe you or your children are in danger – you should consider vacating your home, finding a safe place, and immediately contacting the police and an attorney.
  • Avoid confrontations with your spouse. Under the stress of a divorce or pending divorce, small complaints and criticisms can escalate quickly, even to unintended physical conflict. Handle contested issues through your attorney – they will be able to determine what is important to the outcome of the divorce. Do not issue threats of any kind – or respond to the threats of your spouse, instead walk away. Something as simple as blocking someone’s egress from a room could be considered abusive. If you appear to be the initiator, even if you were not (especially in the case of abuse), it can have a negative impact on your divorce and/or access to your children. If you believe you or your children are in danger – you should find a safe place, and immediately contact the police and an attorney. If violence, or a serious threat does occur, call the police immediately.
  • Do not threaten or attempt to financially damage the other spouse or your family by quitting your job, selling assets at a “fire sale”, making large purchases, or making new binding investments. These behaviors are never looked upon favorably by the courts. It can have a negative impact on the divorce process and may limit your options. In fact, you should do your best to maintain your finances on an even keel during your divorce and until it becomes final.
  • A new romantic relationship during your divorce will almost always negatively impact, in some fashion, your divorce. Do not begin a new relationship during your divorce and if you have started a new relationship, put it on hold until the divorce has become final. If you have been involved in any extramarital affairs, talk to a lawyer before discussing it with your spouse or anyone else. It is highly likely that your new relationship will be dragged into the divorce process whether it is to be settled or litigated since new relationships draw questions regarding the use and distribution of marital assets, as well as parenting plans. Regardless of your feelings, trust us, it is not worth it!
  • Put your children’s needs ahead of your own. Children are greatly impacted during divorce, so cooperation with your spouse during the divorce with phone calls from your children, and visits between your children and your spouse are key, unless of course there is an issue of safety. Creating difficulties between your spouse and your children can negatively impact the outcome of your divorce. Do not use your children tactically to gain insight or information about your spouse’s intentions. Your children are not divorcing you, so don’t drag your children into your divorce. If children are staying with the other parent, continue to have regular contact with them, and as frequently as possible. Keep records of your contact with your children and if your spouse is attempting to interfere with your contact with your children, document your efforts to have contact. In general, do not introduce your children to new significant others, even if those relationships are new friends, platonic or otherwise. Even if the kids are teenagers your new relationships will be too confusing and unsettling to them especially during and immediately after the divorce, instead keep the focus on your family and the love both parents feel for their children.
  • Gather and document information. Gather all financial information to which you have access, and make copies of documents that might easily be destroyed or lost. Include copies of vehicle titles, mortgage statements, bank statements, insurance policies, receipts of large purchases (i.e. artwork), investment/retirement accounts, and include debts such as credit lines, credit cards, and personal loans/liabilities. Document this information in a detailed list. Having an organized, detailed list will save you time and money. Attach to this record photographic or video recordings of your home, furnishings and property and note the condition and needed repairs if any.
  • Assume that anything you say or write is being recorded or will be used in court. Be very careful about communications with the other spouse. Assume all communications can be used against you in court. We recommend that you do not use personal computers to which your spouse has had administrator privileges, even if only in the past. Voicemail accounts on your cell phone or work phone should be reset with new passwords known only to you. And if you have a personal email account that you have been using during your marriage, assume that the other party can access the account even if you change the password. Create a new email account via a secure personal computer and use it for all communications except those with your spouse.

Useful Links

The internet can be a terrific source of valuable information on divorce in Florida. However, you should always consult with your own attorney before implementing anything you read or hear on the internet.

International Academy of Collaborative Professionals – Collaborative Law Professional Association
Collaborative Divorce Team, Inc. – Palm Beach County Practice Group
Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts – Professional and Certification Association
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy – Marriage and Family Therapy Professional Association
Association of Family and Conciliation Courts – Resources for Families
Divorce Videos – Charlie Jamieson’s Divorce and Family Law Video Gallery.

Need Advice Now?

They don’t teach divorce as a subject in school, so where do you go when you face the unexpected? Charlie’s focus is Florida Family Law. He has amassed a wealth of knowledge. He’s an expert in his field and he is committed to educating and informing clients so that they can make the best decisions; whether it is how to approach your spouse about divorce, how to choose the right attorney, or what process will offer the most benefit to you and your children. An initial consultation with Charlie will provide substantial assistance and advice. Our initial consultations are not a sales pitch, so there is a reasonable fee for the service. You can now schedule initial consultations online. This gives you the convenience of setting an appointment with us whether or not our office is open. Do you just have a quick question? Drop us a note instead!