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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.