The divorce process can take many possible routes. Traditionally, the litigation route begins by filing a contested petition with the court. A copy of this petition is served on the other spouse and, thereafter, each party engages in discovery relating to financial issues and parenting issues. More often than not, the parties attempt to mediate before trial. If mediation is successful, the case is settled. If the mediation is not successful, the case goes to trial.
However, it is possible to settle a divorce without actually beginning the contested divorce litigation. This is typically done by a pre-suit voluntary exchange of information followed by mediation. Again, if mediation is successful, the case is settled, other than the filing of a non-contested petition indicating that the parties have reached a settlement and requesting that the court enter a final judgment dissolution of marriage based upon a settlement. Thereafter, a final judgment can be entered without actually appearing before the court and certain paperwork is filed with the court.
It is impossible to accurately estimate the cost at the beginning. If the parties have arrived at a verbal settlement and an attorney is only being utilized to draft a formal written version of that settlement and prepare necessary documents for the court to enter a final judgment based on a settlement, costs and attorneys fees could be in the range of $3,500-$5,000.
If the parties are able to arrive at such a settlement only after going to the additional step of mediation and a more detailed exchange of financial information, it is likely that each party’s cost will be no less than $7,500-$10,000.
If no settlement is reached prior to the initiation of contested litigation and the case actually goes to trial, legal fees will be much more expensive. However, divorce is never a “one size fits all” situation. Each divorce is fact specific. Are there few assets or many assets? Will there be issues regarding the values of assets (such as the valuation of the business) or not? For purposes of determining child support and spousal support, is there disagreement between the parties regarding each party’s income? Are the parties in agreement on all parenting issues or other significant differences of opinion as to time-sharing and/or other parenting issues? Are both parties rational and reasonable or is either party irrational and angry? Any and all of these issues can lead to both parties paying very significant legal fees and costs.
If the parties have reached an agreement and there are no complications, a divorce can be achieved in as few as 6 to 8 weeks. On the other hand, complicated and protracted divorce proceedings can last years.
Florida has a specific relocation statute which requires the other parent’s written agreement or court order for any permanent relocation more than 50 miles away from the children’s current residence. If relocation is contested, the court looks at a multitude of factors based, in the overall, on the best interest of the minor children, which is not necessarily the same as the best interest of the parent who wishes to relocate.
Either party must have been a resident of the state of Florida for at least six months prior to the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage. This residency will allow the court to enter a dissolution of marriage. However, if only one party is a resident of the state of Florida and the other party does not have other significant ties to the state of Florida, the court may not have jurisdiction to determine property issues and/or spousal support issues. Florida is a no-fault state. This essentially means that if either party wishes to obtain a divorce, the court will grant a divorce without the need to find anything other than that the marriage is irretrievably broken. If either party asserts that the marriage is irretrievably broken, then that finding will be made by the court. When there are minor children and one party resists the entry of a dissolution of marriage, it is possible, although unlikely, that the court will order counseling for up to three months. However, if one party insists that such counseling will be ineffective, then the court is unlikely to make such an order.
Florida has, theoretically, done away with the concept of “custody.” Instead, the new statute speaks to parenting arrangements, shared parental responsibility and time-sharing. It is presumed that the parents will have parental responsibility with regard to the minor children. That is, neither parent will have the right to make unilateral decisions as to any major, nonemergency issues regarding the children. The court will order shared parental responsibility unless the court is convinced that such an arrangement is detrimental to the minor children. With regard to time-sharing, Florida has a public policy that each parent should have significant contact and access with each minor child. This does not create a presumption of 50-50 time-sharing. However, it is safe to assume that most judges are going to award a father more than the traditional weekend time-sharing in the absence of strong evidence that a father has significant parenting problems.
Florida is an equitable distribution state. In the vast majority of cases, this means a 50-50 distribution of marital assets and marital liabilities. Marital assets basically include all assets acquired by either party during the marriage, whether titled individually or jointly. Likewise, all debt acquired during the marriage, again whether individually or jointly titled, is presumed to be marital debt.