Florida is a No Fault Divorce state. What this means is, absent some extremely limited circumstances, the reason that you or your spouse wants a divorce is irrelevant. The Court will not hear the reasons for the divorce. As long as one Party swears that the marriage is irretrievably broken and that no amount of counseling is going to fix it, a divorce is going to take place. While it takes two to get married, it only takes one to get a divorce. While many of my clients do not actually want a divorce, if your spouse is seeking a divorce, you can't just bury your head in the sand. You need to prepare. The first step is an immediate consultation with Michael D. Fluke, Esquire.
A Divorce action is a law suit. It is initiated by the filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The Petition will include all of the issues involved in the case and how the filing Party wishes for the court to resolve those issues. Typical issues in a Divorce action are Child Custody (now known as timesharing in Florida), Parental Responsibility, Child Support, Equitable Distribution and Alimony. The Petition then must be served with a Summons by the Sheriff or authorized process server on the other Party. Once the Petition has been served, the other Party has 20 days in which to file an Answer.
If the served Party, known as the Respondent, fails to file an Answer a Default can be obtained by the Clerk of Courts and a Default Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage can be entered by the court. If an Answer is filed, the next step is to complete Mandatory Disclosure, including a Financial Affidavit, and a court approved Parenting Class if there are minor children involved.
Throughout this process, the Parties have the right to engage in settlement negotiations by themselves or through their respective attorneys. If no settlement can be reached, most Florida courts require the Parties to attend Mediation. Mediation is a confidential process where the Parties and their attorneys meet with a neutral third party known as a Mediator. The Mediator is not a Judge and cannot force the Parties to reach an agreement. The Mediator is an impartial presence who can help both sides see the potential faults in their position and help lead the parties to some middle ground.
In the event that an agreement cannot be reached in mediation, known as an Impasse, the next step is to set the case for trial. This is not to say that the Parties or their attorneys cannot continue to negotiate and reach an agreement, but there must be and end to the case and, if no agreement can be reached, the case must go to trial. Often times setting trial is just the push both sides need to settle the case. Knowing that, if a mutual agreement cannot be reached, the Judge, who does not know either side, is going to make a decision that will have long term effects on your life, can be a major motivation for settlement.
Divorce actions have serious and long term ramifications. This may very well be the most important battle of your life. Too many people try to go at it without representation. Emotion gets in the way of reason. Often times they do not realize their mistake until it is too late. Each and every step of a Divorce action can be critical starting with the initial Petition that is filed. Having an experienced attorney on your side can make the difference between a fair and just outcome and a travesty of justice. You absolutely have the right to represent yourself in court. How smart it is may be a different story. The old maxim is that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. I prefer to tell my clients that if you have a tooth that needs to be pulled, you go to the best dentist that you can find. If you have a legal issue, you go to the best lawyer you can find.