You have decided that a divorce is in your family’s best interests. What next? The Fort Lauderdale divorce attorneys at Neave Family Law Group, will guide you and help you make the right decisions for your family.
After you have retained an attorney, your attorney will take care of filing your petition for dissolution of marriage, other forms, and discovery requests. If you have special circumstances that warrant additional motions such as to freeze assets, your attorney will prepare and file those motions with your petition. Once your petition is filed, and the filing fee is paid, the Broward County Clerk of Court issues a summons. The summons along with all other documents prepared and filed by your attorney will be served upon your spouse. If you and your spouse are not communicating, this will come as a surprise and could incite a negative reaction. When possible, coordinating service with your spouse’s attorney or having your spouse’s attorney accept service for your spouse can start the divorce off on the right foot.
Once your spouse has been served, your spouse has 20 days file any responsive pleadings. Those pleadings can be an answer, a counterpetition or a motion to dismiss. Within 45 days of your spouse being served the petition, discovery is due.
Discovery, as it relates to divorce, is an exchange of financial and other documents between you and your spouse through the attorneys that inform you and your spouse of your financial estate and each of your financial positions. In Florida, you and your spouse are each required to prepare and sign a financial affidavit. The financial affidavit details your monthly income and expenses as well as your assets and liabilities. The financial affidavit is one of the most important documents you will prepare. In addition to preparing a financial affidavit, both you and your spouse will be required to exchange mandatory disclosure documents. Those are documents that the State of Florida has determined must be exchanged between spouses. Those documents include tax returns, bank and financial statements, proof of insurance, and retirement account statements, to name a few. Attorneys also like to seek additional document through a request for production of documents and may seek to have a series of written questions answered called interrogatories. If the attorney is still unclear about assets or liabilities or about any issue in connection with your divorce, he or she may elect to take a deposition or to seek documents from someone other than your spouse. Examples of these may be sending a subpoena for documents in connection with your spouse’s employment, or taking your spouse’s deposition to get clearer answers.
Once discovery documents have been exchanged and the attorneys representing you and your spouse are satisfied they understand the extent and issues with the marital estate, you and your spouse will attend mediation with your attorneys. The mediation can be held at either of the attorneys’ offices or at the office of the mediator. Mediations can also be held virtually by Zoom or another similar platform. The mediator’s job is to broker a resolution of your divorce issues and to settle your case. Mediation can be a long and stressful day, but if your case resolves, the long stressful day is justified. Usually if terms are reached at mediation, either of the attorneys or the mediator will prepare a written agreement commemorating the settlement. Both you and your spouse will have a chance to read the written agreement, ask your respective attorneys any questions you have about the agreement, and make changes. After both you and your spouse are satisfied with your agreement, you both will execute it and your case is resolved. It is possible that you agree to a resolution in mediation but that the agreement needs to be drafted at another time by one of the attorneys. This is normal, and generally not a problem unless either you or your spouse changes his or her mind.
Once you have signed your divorce settlement agreement, the spouse who originally filed the petition for dissolution of marriage will attend an uncontested final hearing. The uncontested final hearing is a quick hearing in front of the judge where the judge reviews the agreement, may ask a few questions about whether you entered into the agreement voluntarily and will sign the final order granting your divorce.
If you cannot get your case resolved through the mediation process, then another period of more intense discovery may follow as the attorneys begin preparing for trial. Your attorney may take depositions, or seek documents that were not received during the initial discovery process. You may need to hire an expert or have real property appraised. You and your attorney will meet several times to prepare for trial. Generally, the attorneys will still attempt to negotiate a settlement unless you or your spouse maintains an unreasonable position. If that is the case, then you will attend trial with your attorney.
No case is like another. The length of each divorce will depend upon whether the marital estate is extensive, whether there are children or mental health issues that need to be addressed, whether you are able to settle the case in mediation or whether you must proceed to trial. The length of trial will depend on how many witnesses are testifying, whether a translator is needed, whether you and your spouse can agree upon any facts or valuations of assets and liabilities, whether your case involves child issues and a parenting plan, and if you have professionals that will be testifying. Some trials last a few hours and some last several days. It depends on the complexity of your divorce.
During your trial, you will sit in the courtroom with your attorney and you will hear all testimony presented to the judge and see all evidence submitted to the judge. Most trials are being held by Zoom in light of the Covid-19 epidemic. Some judges are returning to the Courthouse and others are not. Whether you will attend your trial by Zoom or in-person will be largely determined by the judge presiding over your matter. Both you and your spouse will testify at trial. Once all of the testimony has been taken and all evidence submitted, the judge will rule. The judge can rule that day, or review the evidence and law and issue a ruling at a later date. Once the judge has issued a ruling, either your attorney or your spouse’s attorney will prepare the final order which includes the judge’s ruling and the findings supporting the ruling. Once that order is signed by the judge, you are divorced.
There is no set length. There is no waiting period to obtain your divorce. If you and your spouse quickly agree and resolve your issues, you could be divorced in as little as 3 months. If you and your spouse cannot agree on anything and are required to have many hearings before the judge to make any headway, your divorce could take two (2) or more years. It is no secret, however, that the quicker you resolve your divorce issues, the less it will cost you.