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BEGINNING THE COURT PROCEEDING
The regular dissolution process begins with a petition for dissolution of marriage, filed with the circuit court in the county where you and your spouse last lived together or in a county where either party resides. Either spouse may file for a dissolution of marriage. The petitioner must allege that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The petition sets out what the petitioner wants from the court. The other spouse must file an answer within 20 days of being served, addressing the matters in the initial petition, and can choose to include a counter-petition for dissolution of marriage raising any additional issues that spouse requests the court to address.
AUTOMATIC FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE
Court rules governing a dissolution of marriage require that each party provide certain financial documents and a completed financial affidavit to the other party within 45 days of the service of the petition or several days before any temporary hearing. Failure to provide this information can result in the court dismissing the case or not considering that party’s requests. The parties or the court can modify these requirements except for the filing of a financial affidavit, which is mandatory in all cases in which financial relief is sought. A child-support guidelines worksheet also must be filed with the court at or before any hearing on child support. This requirement may not be waived by the parties or the court.
Mediation is a procedure to assist you and your spouse in working out an arrangement for reaching an agreement without a protracted process or a trial. Its purpose is not to save a marriage but to help divorcing spouses reach a solution and arrive at agreeable terms for handling the break-up of the marriage. Many counties have public or court-connected mediation services available. Some counties require spouses to attempt mediation before a final hearing (also known as “trial”) can be set.
FORMALIZING SETTLEMENT TERMS
Some spouses agree on some or all of the issues before or after the petition is filed. Issues may include the division of property, a parenting plan, spousal support, child support or attorney’s fees. Parties who have reached an understanding as to their desired outcome(s) enter into a written agreement that is signed by both parties and then presented to the court. Parties who do not yet have a written agreement but have reached an understanding also may appear for a final hearing with a suggested settlement that they ask the court to accept and incorporate into a final judgment. In such uncontested cases, a dissolution of marriage can become final in a short amount of time.
Reaching an agreement empowers parties to create terms with which they are more likely to comply rather than leaving decisions up to a judge.
CONTESTED FINAL HEARING
Finally, some spouses cannot agree on all issues, so a final hearing (or “trial”) is required. Each party will present evidence and testimony to the judge during the final hearing, and then the judge makes the final decision on the contested issues.
Source: The Florida Bar
Vanessa Calcano-Thomas, Esq.
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