Dissolution Proceedings Through the Court
There are two ways of filing in a Florida court for a dissolution of marriage. The most common way is called a “Regular Dissolution of Marriage.” The second method is the “Simplified Dissolution of Marriage.” Family Law Forms for dissolution, domestic violence and other related forms can be found at the Florida Courts’ website.
Regular Dissolution of Marriage
BEGINNING THE COURT PROCEEDING
The regular dissolution process begins with a petition for dissolution of marriage, filed with the circuit court in the county where you and your spouse last lived together or in a county where either party 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 other spouse must file an answer within 20 days of being served, addressing the matters in the initial petition, and can choose to include a counter-petition for dissolution of marriage raising any additional issues that spouse requests the court to address.
AUTOMATIC FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE
Court rules governing a dissolution of marriage require that each party provide certain financial documents and a completed financial affidavit to the other party within 45 days of the service of the petition or several days before any temporary hearing. Failure to provide this information can result in the court dismissing the case or not considering that party’s requests. The parties or the court can modify these requirements except for the filing of a financial affidavit, which is mandatory in all cases in which financial relief is sought. A child-support guidelines worksheet also must be filed with the court at or before any hearing on child support. This requirement may not be waived by the parties or the court.
Mediation is a procedure to assist you and your spouse in working out an arrangement for reaching an agreement without a protracted 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. Some counties require spouses to attempt mediation before a final hearing (also known as “trial”) can be set. To learn more about mediation, visit Florida Courts website.
FORMALIZING SETTLEMENT TERMS
Some spouses agree on some or all of the issues before or after the petition is filed. Issues may include the division of property, a parenting plan, spousal support, child support or attorneys’ fees. Parties who have reached an understanding as to their desired outcome(s) enter into a written agreement that is signed by both parties and then presented to the court. Parties who do not yet have a written agreement but have reached an understanding also may appear for a final hearing with a suggested settlement that 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 HEARING
Finally, some spouses cannot agree on all issues, so a final hearing (or “trial”) is required. Each party will present evidence and testimony to the judge during the final hearing, and then the judge makes the final decision on the contested issues.
Simplified Dissolution of Marriage
Certain couples are eligible to dissolve their marriage by way of a simplified procedure. This type of dissolution was designed so the services of an attorney might not be necessary. Spouses are responsible, however, for filing all necessary documents correctly, and both parties are required to appear before a judge together when the final dissolution is granted.
You can retain an attorney to represent you even in an uncontested matter. The cost for such services is generally much less than in a contested case. You can further reduce your attorneys’ fees if you ensure that you and your spouse have reached an agreement on all issues that would require the attorney’s work.
ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS FOR SIMPLIFIED DISSOLUTION
Not everyone can use the simplified procedure. Couples can use the simplified dissolution of marriage only if all the following requirements are met:
- Both parties agree to the use of this form of dissolution proceeding.
- They have no minor (under 18) or dependent children.
- They have no adopted children under the age of 18.
- Neither party is pregnant.
- At least one of the parties has lived in Florida for the past six months.
- The parties have agreed on the division of all of their property (assets) and obligations (debts).
- Neither party is seeking alimony.
- Both parties agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
If you and your spouse cannot meet all of the above requirements, you will have to follow the procedure of the regular dissolution of marriage process.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN REGULAR AND SIMPLIFIED DISSOLUTION PROCEEDINGS
There are substantial differences between a simplified and a regular dissolution of marriage. In a regular dissolution, each spouse has the right to examine and cross-examine the other as a witness. Each spouse also has the ability to obtain documents concerning the other’s income, expenses, assets and debts before a trial or settlement. With a simplified dissolution, financial information may be requested by either party, but disclosing financial information is not required. You must also be willing to give up your right to trial and appeal in the simplified dissolution process.
OBTAINING THE FORMS FOR SIMPLIFIED DISSOLUTION PROCEEDINGS
If spouses seek a dissolution and prefer to use the simplified form of dissolution, they should both contact the clerk of the circuit court in their county and obtain a copy of the booklet titled “Simplified Dissolution Information” for more detailed information and forms. Or visit the Florida Courts’ website provided above.
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