Florida Divorce Lawyer – Helping Clients in Okaloosa & Walton Counties and Throughout Northwest Florida
Divorce can be emotionally draining, particularly if there are children involved. The process can also become expensive if the parties are unable to agree on issues. Very few litigants are ever happy with a judge’s decision. The good news is that the parties’ are in control of all aspects of their lives up until the time a judge has to decide the issues.
The procedure is initiated with the filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the Clerk of Court in the county where the parties last lived as husband and wife, or where your spouse currently resides. The petition and standing orders are required to be served on your spouse, and he/she will have 20 days to file a written response. The 20 days can be extended by agreement of the parties.
At the onset of the case, the parties are required to exchange certain financial information, known as mandatory disclosure. This will include financial affidavits, tax returns, payroll and earnings records, bank account and investment statements, insurance policies, deeds, and credit card statements. Additional relevant information can be requested by either party. If a party believes that the other party’s response is deficient, further clarification can be had.
Once the parties are fully satisfied that they have been fully apprised of the other’s financial standing, the issues in the case must be addressed through mediation. Florida law requires that all family law cases be mediated before the issues are addressed by a judge. Mediation is a settlement conference conducted by an impartial third party known as the mediator in the presence of the litigants and their lawyers. The process is informal and usually conducted in one of the law offices where the parties meet with the mediator in separate rooms. Anything that is discussed with the mediator is confidential and cannot be divulged without the consent of the party. The mediator does not decide the case or any of the issues. The mediator’s role is to go back and forth between the parties in an effort to facilitate a settlement. Any issues that are resolved will be reduced to writing in a Marital Settlement Agreement and submitted to the court for ratification. Any discussions had in mediation, not reduced to writing, are not admissible in court.
Those issues which cannot be agreed upon by the parties will then be decided by a judge at a final hearing, which is usually conducted in chambers. Each party will be allowed to testify, call witnesses and introduce evidence in support of their positions. Testimony and credibility of witnesses may be challenged by each party, as well as, the authenticity and sufficiency of any evidence that is introduced. A judge has the authority to decide issues of parental responsibility, custody, timesharing, child support, distribution of marital assets and liabilities, alimony and an award of attorney fees and suit monies. The judge’s decision becomes binding on the parties subject to review by an appellate court if timely requested by either party.