Family law cases involving divorce, spousal support, child custody, or visitation schedules are often highly contentious proceedings. Reminiscence of the past, frustration about the present, and uncertainty concerning the future can combine to form one overwhelming experience. You are not alone in your feelings or in your fight for a just and fair resolution.
Divorce is something that hundreds of thousands of couples go through every year in the United States. In 2020, the rate of divorce across 45 reporting states in America was 2.3 per 1,000 residents. In Florida, that number was 3.0 per 1,000 residents. Its commonality, however, does not make it any less difficult. A divorce is often emotionally and financially draining for all parties.
Florida is considered a no-fault state when it comes to divorce. This means you don’t have to prove any wrongdoing for a divorce. You can file for the dissolution of your marriage because the relationship is irretrievably broken, which is sometimes referred to as irreconcilable differences.
- At least one spouse must have lived in Florida for six months or longer before filing for divorce.
- Mediation may be required before a divorce is granted.
The Divorce Process
While every divorce is highly specific to the spouses involved, there are certain procedures that are required in most Florida divorces. In order to begin the process, a petition for dissolution of marriage must be filed with the appropriate court. If you are the petitioner, or person who is filing the petition, you will file with the circuit court in the county where you live or where you and your spouse last lived together. After the initial petition is filed, the other spouse has 20 days to file what is known as an answer. Sometimes a counterpetition is also included by the answering husband or wife.
In many cases, a financial disclosure will be required. This is used for determining things like property distribution, spousal support, and child support. If you and your divorcing spouse have minor children, there will be many additional factors that must be met before the entire process can be finalized.
Florida courts provide instructions for many of the forms and requirements involved in filing for divorce, but they are often long and complex. If you are experiencing strong emotions and stress, as many people do during this time, learning how to file court documents and format petitions can be overwhelming.
Mediation is a process that allows spouses to work with an objective third party, the mediator, to figure out an agreeable solution to the divorce terms. You can have legal representation during these meetings because the mediator is not a representative of either you or your spouse.
If mediation is required, or if you and your ex-partner decide to work with a mediator on your own accord, any resulting agreement will be binding. The order that is created as a result of mediation, if approved by the court, will be entered and becomes enforceable just like any other court-issued order.
Florida law uses a system of equitable distribution when determining the division of assets and debts. A judge will generally start with an assumption that a 50/50 split is fair, but there is no requirement to maintain that even separation. Dividing property should be done equitably, not necessarily equally.
The Court will consider many factors during this process:
- Economic or financial circumstances of both spouses
- How long the parties were married
- Each spouse’s contribution to the marriage, which includes homemaker duties
- Either party’s intentional depletion or waste of a marital asset
These factors, along with numerous other relevant qualifiers, will be used to determine the most equitable division of marital property.
Spousal support, or alimony, may be granted to either spouse in a divorce. If you or your spouse requests alimony, there must be a demonstrated need from the requesting party and an ability to provide financial support from the other party. There are multiple types of alimony that a divorce court may award when necessary.
Bridge-the-gap alimony may be given in situations where one spouse needs financial assistance in order to transition to unmarried life. This is awarded to account for short-term needs, and there are time limits to the duration of this type of spousal support.
Rehabilitative alimony provides the receiving spouse with the ability to become financially self-sufficient by completing vocational training or redeveloping credentials or skills in order to obtain a job. If awarded, it will likely be accompanied by a detailed plan so both spouses know what is required and for how long the support will last.
Durational alimony is temporary and is set for a specific amount of time. It is most often awarded to a spouse when the marriage spanned less than 17 years. However, it can also be granted following marriages of longer than 17 years if permanent support is not warranted.
Permanent alimony is most often awarded at the dissolution of a long-term marriage of 17 years or more. Its purpose is to provide for the needs of the receiving spouse at the level that was established during the many years of marriage.
Aside from the length of the marriage, a judge will also consider:
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- Age and health of each spouse
- The contributions of each spouse to the household, including financial, child-rearing, and homemaking responsibilities
- Each spouse’s income and financial situation
Alimony is intended to alleviate any extreme or unfair economic burden on either spouse. It is not uncommon for someone to make more money than their spouse, nor is it rare for one parent to forego employment and be a stay-at-home parent. Alimony ensures that these differences in financial and career situations do not cause a substantial negative impact on the standard of living or financial needs of either party.
Child Custody and Visitation
One of the most challenging and potentially contentious aspects of a divorce case is the decision on child custody and visitation schedules. Physical custody and visitation are now referred to respectively as time-sharing and parenting time in Florida proceedings.
A parenting plan lays out the guidelines for raising children after a divorce. It almost always includes things like time-sharing schedules, financial details, and communication procedures. You and your spouse can agree upon your own version of a parenting plan and submit it to the court, at which point it may be approved or modified. If you cannot agree on terms, a judge can also create a plan for you.
In either case, the best interests of the child or children should be the primary objective. The court will either devise a plan or review your plan by focusing on the details that outline the upbringing of the child and the tasks each parent will be responsible for, the amount of time the child will spend with each parent, healthcare responsibilities, and school-related matters.
There are three categories of parenting plans in Florida. The basic or general parenting plan, the long-distance plan, and the safety-focused plan. Most parents will be best served by a basic parenting plan; however, everyone’s situation is unique.
Time-sharing schedules, commonly referred to as custody arrangements or physical custody, are intended to maximize the amount of time a child spends with each parent as it relates to the child’s best interests. These schedules will be created based on the safety and security of the child, to protect the child from conflict, and to establish stability in an attempt to minimize upheaval in the child’s life.
Other factors are often taken into consideration, such as each parent’s ability and willingness to be cooperative with any potential scheduling adjustments or changes in circumstances as they occur.
Common Time-Sharing Layouts
A judge will prioritize the needs of the child and create or approve a schedule based on each family’s individual situation. Many families, however, find that one of the following fits their lifestyle and needs:
- Alternating weeks – the child spends an entire week with one parent, then the next full week with the other parent, and so on
- 3-4-4-3 – three days with one parent, the next four days with the other, then the following four days with the first parent in the pattern, etc.
- Every weekend – the child spends the weekdays with one parent and every weekend with their other parent
- Alternating weekends – also known as an 80/20 arrangement, the child spends the majority of the time with one parent and every other weekend with the other parent
This is by no means an exhaustive list of possibilities. You and your ex-partner are in the best situation to know what schedule will work well for your child. Again, if you cannot agree on a time-sharing schedule, a judge will decide the custody division for you based on your child’s best interests.
An award of child support is not a guarantee, mainly when the time-sharing schedule divides parenting time equally. Child support guidelines are outlined in Florida statutes and include considerations for income, disability, parenting schedules, childcare costs, health insurance, and spousal support. A judge will often reference the guideline schedule based on the parents’ combined income to determine the support amount.
During the pendency of the divorce proceedings, and especially after a final order has been entered, it is crucial that you and your ex remain amicable co-parents. Co-parenting can be difficult, as it involves open and respectful communication and compromise to keep relations agreeable.
It is impossible for a parenting plan to account for every scenario that you’ll face in the years following your divorce. Because of this, you and your co-parent will need to be flexible and understanding of necessary adjustments. There are also aspects of life and parenthood that a parenting plan cannot or will not stipulate terms for.
House rules, for example, will need to be decided upon by you and your co-parent. Stability and structure are vital in a child’s life, especially young children. Things like bedtimes, nutrition, screentime, homework, chores, and punishment methods are most effective for your child when they are consistent and implemented in both households.
At the Lucas, Macyszyn & Dyer Law Firm, we are ready to evaluate your family law case right away. Once you brief us on the facts, we can analyze the case, then advise you accordingly.
Past results do not define future results, but you can count on our 20-plus years of experience to afford you the best representation possible. Contact us at (727) 849-5353 for a free evaluation.