Frequently Asked Family Law Questions
Are you confused about Florida Family Law? You're not alone.
Read the questions most frequently asked by others in your situation.
How do I obtain a divorce?
To obtain a divorce (referred to as a Dissolution of Marriage in Florida),
you must file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the clerk's
office in the proper circuit court. After the petition is filed, it must
be "served" on your spouse along with a Summons. Once served,
your spouse will have twenty (20) days in which to file their answer to
your petition. Your case will then proceed through discovery and will
eventually be resolved either through a negotiated agreement between you
and your spouse or by a judge after a trial.
There are many issues that must be decided in your divorce including how
to divide your property and debts, where your children will live, how
much child support will be paid, and whether alimony/spousal support will be paid.
I've been served with legal papers, what do I do?
If you've been served with legal papers, you should contact an attorney
immediately because you only have a short period of time in which to respond.
If you don't timely respond, you may end up in default. If you're
in default, the other person will be entitled to the relief they requested
and you won't be able to tell the judge your side of the story.
Am I required to list a reason to get a divorce in Florida?
No, Florida is a "No Fault" state that does not require a reason
such as adultery or abuse for you to get divorced. In Florida, a divorce
is called a Dissolution of Marriage and there are only two reasons you
can dissolve your marriage: (1) the marriage is irretrievably broken;
or (2) either you or your spouse is mentally incapacitated.
How will my property and debts be divided?
Florida law requires an equitable distribution of property and liabilities.
The first step is identifying all the assets and liabilities owned by
you and your spouse. The next step is classifying those assets and liabilities
as either marital or non-marital. The final step is distributing the marital
assets and liabilities equitably (not necessarily equally) regardless
of how the title is held. In some instances, however, there may be an
unequal distribution. The non-marital assets and liabilities will be set
aside and given to the person who owns them.
Who will get custody of the children?
Florida refers to custody and visitation as timesharing. If you are unable
to agree on a timesharing schedule, the court will impose one for you
based on "the best interests of the child(ren)." Florida law
specifically states that there is no presumption in favor of one parent
over the other and there is a specific list of factors that the court
will consider in determining the children's best interests.
How is child support determined?
Florida has adopted a child support guidelines formula to determine the
amount of child support to be paid. The guidelines are based on the principle
that every child has the right to the support of both parents. The formula
uses the combined net incomes of both parents to calculate the total support
needed for the children. It then considers who pays health insurance and
any daycare expenses for the children as well as how many nights the children
spend with each parent before determining how much child support is to be paid.
What can I do to get the other parent to pay court ordered child support?
If there is a court order for payment of child support and it is not being
paid, you should file a motion for enforcement and seek to hold the non-paying
parent in contempt of court. If they are held in contempt, there are several
punitive measures a court can take to enforce the child support order.
Can my divorce agreement/final judgment be changed?
The answer is it depends. Generally, while modification of property distributions
are often not allowed, modifications of child support, timesharing and
alimony can be granted if there has been a substantial change in circumstances
since the entry of the order. You should review your agreement/final judgment
because it may specifically state what can and cannot be modified.
Can I get alimony? / Will I have to pay alimony?
Unlike child support there is no specific formula for alimony. Alimony
is determined by a needs based test whereby if one spouse has a need for
alimony (their expenses exceed their income) and the other spouse has
the ability to pay alimony (their income exceeds their expenses), alimony
can be awarded. Once it's determined that one spouse is entitled to
alimony and the amount has been decided, you next have to determine how
long alimony will be paid. There are several different types of alimony:
temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative durational, permanent and lump sum.
Do I need a prenuptial/postnuptial agreement?
Once you get married you will automatically have a prenuptial agreement
– it's the law of the State of Florida and it will be imposed
upon you whether you like it or not. But since your situation is unique,
you should probably enter into an agreement that is customized to fit
your life and your specific situation. Otherwise you will have a complete
stranger (a judge) making decisions that will permanently affect you.