Family Law

How Does The Florida Divorce Process Work?

Most people have heard divorce-related terms such as “child support,” “custody,” and “alimony,” but don’t fully understand what they mean or how they are determined. The lawyers at Heitner Legal will help you understand the Florida divorce process and the key issues relevant to you.

First, a Florida divorce is legally called “dissolution of marriage.” When a party files for a Florida divorce, he/she is actually filing what is known as a “petition for dissolution of marriage (with or without minor children).” In order to file a petition for dissolution of marriage for a Florida divorce, you must be able to show that you are legally married; that you have resided in Florida for at least six months; and that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Although each dissolution action is unique, the main issues in most dissolution actions are: (1) the division of assets and liabilities (equitable distribution); (2) spousal support; (3) child support; and (4) timesharing schedules and parenting plans.

(1) The Division of Assets and Liabilities – Equitable Distribution:
Dividing assets and liabilities may mean splitting up not just everything you both physically own, but also your retirement accounts, stocks, and even your debt. The manner in which this is done varies from couple to couple; however, generally anything acquired before the marriage is not divisible (it is “non-marital”) while anything acquired during the marriage is divisible (it is “marital”). Florida calls this division of assets and liabilities “equitable distribution,” and strives to obtain an equitable result. For example, instead of splitting the marital home 50/50 simply because it was purchased during the marriage, in a Florida divorce, if one party can show that he or she used a substantial sum of money obtained before the marriage to purchase the home, the Florida courts may find it “more equitable” to give him or her a larger portion equity (unequal distribution) stake in the home. These are the sorts of results that a Florida divorce attorney at Heitner Legal can help you obtain or prevent.

(2) Spousal Support/Alimony:
“Spousal support” is the legal term we use in a Florida divorce for alimony. Spousal support is not at issue in every Florida divorce, and is a very emotional subject because it creates an obligation amongst the parties that extends sometimes well beyond the divorce. If you have had a long-term marriage (17+ years) and earn dramatically different incomes, spousal support will likely be at issue in your divorce. How much spousal support depends on a number of factors and is truly unique to each situation. Divorce clients love to compare themselves to other people’s divorces when discussing spousal support. Don’t fall into this trap. Your neighbor may have been married the same length of time as you, while paying his wife or her husband dramatically less or dramatically more in spousal support. That’s because there are numerous factors the court will consider in determining your spousal support award or obligation, including: (a) The standard of living established during the marriage; (b) The duration of the marriage; (c) The age and the physical and emotional condition of each party; (d) The financial resources of each party; (e) The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties; (f) The contribution of each party to the marriage; (g) The responsibilities each party will have with regard to any minor children they have in common; (h) The tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award; (i) All sources of income available to either party; and (j) Any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties. Fla. Stat. 61.08. The Florida divorce attorneys at Heitner Legal will help advocate for your position in regard to all of these factors, and ensure your best interests are protected when filing a petition for Florida divorce with minor children.

(3) Child Support:
Spousal support is a fairly subjective determination while, generally, child support is not. Child support is a much more black-and-white determination based off the income of each parent, the timesharing arrangement between the parents, the number of children in common, and the costs associated with the children. In Florida, child support is determined by a statutory calculation. The judge can deviate from this calculation by five percent in considering additional factors, like the age of the children and their standard of living. The Florida divorce attorneys at Heitner Legal can help you determine what your child support obligation or award should be, and ensure all relevant factors are considered in reaching this number.

(4) Time-sharing/Custody:
Timesharing schedules and parenting plans are Florida’s version of custody. A parenting plan is a long comprehensive plan that, often, lays out everything from where the children sleep, to what religion they practice, and who gets to spend Memorial Day with them. In Florida, the best interests of the children is the court’s primary concern in determining any child-related issue. There is no one way to design a parenting plan, and no two parenting plans look the same. Your divorce lawyer will work with you to help you determine what is best for your children, and help you design a plan that includes things you may not think to include on your own. The more detailed your parenting plan the better. A well drafted parenting plan prevents future arguments, and gives each parent a well thought out guide for amicably raising their children.