NAPLES, Fla. – The process of a contested divorce begins with the filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The petition along with other new case filing documents are all filed with the clerk of court.
As soon as the petition is filed, the court issues “standing orders,” which order the parties to maintain “status quo.” At that point, neither party will be allowed to dispose of assets, change their estate plans, or stop paying any bills they always paid before the case was filed.
Once the summons is returned from the clerk, along with the docketed new case filing documents, the entire packet is served by a process server upon the other person:
The person who has been served has 20 calendar days (not business days) to file a formal Answer to the Petition (if they don’t file it then they run the risk of the court filing a default judgment against him or her giving the petitioning party everything he or she asked for).
Both parties then have 45 calendar days to do mandatory financial disclosure which is required pursuant to Florida Rules of Family Law Procedure 12.285. This requires both parties to submit sworn financial affidavits and also provide to the other party bank statements, credit card statements, tax returns, pay stubs, and many other financial documents.
If minor children are involved both parties must take a parenting class. It can be done online and the Certificate of Completion must be filed with the court.
Once financial disclosure is complete then the parties must attend court-ordered mediation. All family law cases must be mediated before a Notice of Trial can even be filed with the court. Eighty-five to 90 percent of family law cases settle in mediation.
If the parties impasse at mediation then the go to trial. The trial is a “bench trial” meaning there is no jury, just the judge.
If the parties choose an “uncontested divorce,” then a different type of petition is filed. Assuming they have already executed a Marital Settlement Agreement, then they file a petition that states basically “Court — we agree on everything — here is our agreement — go ahead and give us a divorce.” In that case then the parties do have a 20-day waiting period before they can send the Final Judgment into the judge.
Florida is a no-fault state. No waiting period to prove fault grounds. No required period of separation before filing for divorce.
The quickest/easiest way to get divorced is to agree on everything. If there is no disagreement, then the parties can enter into a Marital Settlement Agreement. If they have minor children however, then they will need to file a formal Parenting Plan with the Court and file a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet with the Court. (And do the parenting class).
The five main areas of divorce are: equitable distribution (property settlement); alimony; parenting plans (formally called custody); child support and attorneys’ fees. The less issues that the couple has that fits into these categories, the easier it is to get divorced.
Rebecca Zung, a family law attorney, is a founding partner of the Law Office of Zung Clough, PLLC in Naples. As a renowned divorce authority, she helps clients transform and rebuild their lives. Her book, “Breaking Free: A Step-by-Step Divorce Guide to Emotional, Physical and Spiritual Freedom,” is available on amazon.com. Contact Zung at ZungFamilyLaw.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.