Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm, P.A
Struggling Through Divorce And Custody Matters
A divorcing couple has numerous disputes and complicated court processes to navigate. It is the job of a family law attorney to provide the guidance necessary to get clients from start to finish in the most efficient manner possible.
With more than 45 years of combined legal experience, the lawyers at Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm, P.A are prepared to explain even the most challenging aspect of the court system. Feel free to call us to set up a free consultation.
Here are the main steps involved in the divorce process.
• Beginning a divorce. The beginning of a divorce case in Florida involves filing an action in a court that has jurisdiction. The initial filing is called a complaint. The complaint is a statement of what the person filing for divorce is asking for. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, and it doesn’t have to be very specific. It must contain a plain statement of what the person is asking for – for example the reason for divorce, the request for a division of marital property, a division of marital debt, a parenting plan for any minor children, a request for alimony (spousal support), if any, and a request for attorney fees from the other spouse.
• Court must have jurisdiction. The court must have jurisdiction, or power, to hear the divorce action. Not all courts in Florida have jurisdiction over divorce matters, and the courts that have jurisdiction to hear divorce actions vary from one locality to another.
• Which court? The options of the county in which to file a divorce action are limited. The complaint must be filed in the county where the husband and wife reside at the time of their separation, or in which the defendant resides, if the defendant is resident of Florida. But if the defendant is a nonresident of the state, the complaint must be filed in the county where the person seeking the divorce resides.
• Serve the other party. The person against whom the divorce is filed must be served with process. “Served with process” means the person must receive a copy of the complaint and a summons informing the person that a divorce action has been brought against them, and notifying the defendant of other particulars in the proceeding. After the person is served, a 30-day time frame exists for that person to file a written response to the complaint. The person receiving the summons can then, if they wish, file a counter-complaint against the person who filed the first complaint.
• Settlement before trial. Just because the divorce complaint has been filed, and the other person has been served, does not mean that case has to then proceed to trial. The parties can, of course, try and settle their divorce. A great majority of divorce actions are settled, and not tried, in Florida. Florida courts encourage parties to settle their divorce cases. Because of that philosophy, most courts will require the parties to attend mediation to attempt a settlement of their divorce action. The mediation is a confidential proceeding using a neutral person, called a mediator, who attempts to facilitate an agreement between the parties. If the parties reach an agreement, the agreement is put into a written form and the parties sign that written agreement. Generally, once an agreement is signed, it is not possible to avoid that agreement unless there are extraordinary circumstances or reasons for setting the agreement aside.
• A trial is sometimes necessary. If settlement negotiations, and mediation, are not successful, or only partially successful, the parties can then proceed to a trial. Divorce cases in Florida are generally tried before a judge alone. The judge hears testimony from both parties and their witnesses, and decides these issues: who gets the divorce; how the property is divided; how the debts are divided; a parenting plan for the children, if there are minor children; an award of spousal support or alimony if appropriate; and the award of attorney fees, if appropriate. The decision is called a judgment or decree of divorce.
• You can ask the judge to change the decision. After the decree or judgment is entered by the court, the parties have an opportunity to ask the judge to alter or amend the judgment or decree, or to grant a new trial. Of course, the person asking for changes in the judgment or new trial must have a good reason for that request.
• Appealing the judge’s decision. Appeals are available to persons who disagree with what the trial judge decided. That appeal is made to the court of appeals for the state of Florida.
Our firm has represented thousands of people in divorce cases in many different jurisdictions. The results have been favorable, and we would be pleased to meet with you about your divorce. You can contact us for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Or you can complete the online form on our website. We promise to respond within 24 hours.