Orlando Divorce Law FAQ
If you are considering a divorce from your spouse, many questions will likely start running through your head.
From our experience of representing divorcing spouses in Orlando, we find the same divorce law FAQs coming up again and again.
The following should answer a few of the main questions you have about the dissolution of a marriage, as it is usually referred to in Florida.
What is the divorce process in Orlando?
All divorces must pass through the Florida court system and so there are legal processes to follow. Understanding these processes can help you set your expectations for what lies ahead.
Unlike in some states of the U.S., there is no legal requirement to be separated before divorce in Florida.
However, there are other legal requirements to bear in mind as a couple before you proceed.
The first thing to consider is whether you actually qualify for a divorce. In order to file for divorce in Orlando:
- You or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months prior to filing. Note that only one spouse needs to have maintained contact with a Florida address. Special circumstances may apply if you or your spouse are in the military or based overseas.
- You must meet one of two grounds for dissolution of marriage: either because the marriage is “irretrievably broken” or there are mental capacity issues for one of the parties for a period of three years prior to filing for divorce.
You must file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the circuit court in the county where you or your spouse resides.
You need to inform your spouse (the “respondent”) of the filing and female petitioners can include a request to restore your maiden name.
The respondent has 20 days in which to answer or to file a counter-petition if they are not in agreement about the divorce.
In the latter case, you (as the “petitioner”) may file a Notice for Trial. This will lead to what is known as a contested divorce.
Unless the court finds that a delay will cause injustice in some way, your spouse will then be given the full 20 days to respond.
If there is no response, you can file for a Motion for Default and a final date for the hearing will be set, which both spouses must be informed of.
If there is a dependent child from the marriage, the court will often intervene to protect the child’s best interests.
The court may recommend that:
- One or both parties consult with a marriage counselor or other professional who is qualified to provide guidance.
- The parties seek reconciliation over a reasonable length of time, not exceeding three months.
- Any other action is taken in the best interest of the minor child(ren).
If, after this time, there is no reconciliation or hope of saving the marriage, a hearing date will be set.
If the dissolution of marriage is uncontested (the respondent agrees with the petitioner) and it is found by the court that the petitioner has filed all the necessary paperwork and disclosed all the necessary information, a final hearing date will be set.
If there is a “simplified dissolution” where both parties are in agreement, there are no complications, and all the paperwork is in order, the process can be completed relatively quickly by a judge signing the necessary document at the final hearing.
If there are points of contention, then a trial with multiple hearings may be required.
In either case, it is important to involve an experienced divorce lawyer from the beginning of the process to ensure that your own best interests are looked after in any agreement.
Who gets the house and other assets in an Orlando divorce?
A dissolution of marriage agreement in Florida must address all of the key aspects of a divorce.
This includes the division of assets and liabilities.
Apart from the obvious major assets such as the house, vehicles, property investments, shares, jewelry, and so on, there are other important assets like pensions that also need consideration but which may get missed without the help of an experienced divorce lawyer.
Who gets the home is one of the major decisions that need to be made.
There are no hard and fast rules with this and it will depend on your circumstances at the time of your marriage dissolution.
However, there are some guidelines we can refer to from previous cases that we have worked on.
Dependent children from the marriage nearly always play a major role in the decision of the courts.
Judges will consider their best interests first and foremost, so if there are children living in the family home, most times the family home will remain with the parent who spends most of the time with them – even if they have joint custody.
Sometimes, it is possible for a parent who wants to keep the house to buy out the other spouse.
When considering the division of other marital assets, bear in mind that Florida is an equitable distribution state.
This does not necessarily mean that everything you own in your marriage will be split 50/50. However, it does mean that all assets and debts must be divided in a fair and equitable manner.
If you require the courts to decide on the distribution of assets, they will consider many factors such as:
- Whether there has been full disclosure of financial information by both divorcing spouses
- Each partner’s contribution to the acquisition and accumulation of income, assets or liabilities in the marriage
- Any interests in a business that should remain free from interference by the other party
In each case, a fair and equitable solution is sought.
Pensions, insurance plans, annuities, and profit-sharing arrangements can add great complexity to the division of assets and create difficulties in reaching an agreement.
It is vital to consider these as they are often one of the major assets. A skilled divorce lawyer can guide you on how to go about distributing these assets.
In the case of retirement accounts and pensions, their entire value will not necessarily be considered as marital property; only the portion of it that was accrued during the period of the marriage will need to be shared.
- 401k plans
- IRA and Roth IRA accounts
- Annuities, etc.
So, in general, the portion that grew during the marriage is equally divided at the time of the dissolution of the marriage.
Other rules apply to government and military pensions. So, it’s best to check with your lawyer before setting your expectations and working on an agreement.
What happens with child custody and support?
If there are children from your marriage, it is likely that the dissolution process will be more complex.
Where children are involved, emotions can run high due to natural parental bonds. The intervention and guidance of an experienced lawyer can be essential in reaching agreements on several key issues relating to the children:
- Who will get legal custody of the child(ren)?
- Who will get physical custody of the child(ren)?
- How much child support should be paid?
Child “custody” is called “time-sharing” in Florida. Despite this different name, many of the same tenets apply as in other states.
Any agreement for the care of the minor children should include both the mother and father spending equal time with the child(ren) after a divorce.
Parents having frequent and continuing contact with the child(ren) is generally viewed as being in the best interests of the child(ren) unless there are complicating circumstances such as domestic violence or substance abuse issues.
You must work out the number of overnights and present a schedule that fits the needs of both parents and the child(ren).
An agreement will need to be approved by a judge before it can legally proceed. If you fail to agree on how you share time and responsibilities for your child(ren), this may be solved with the intervention of a mediator, such as a lawyer.
If no agreement can be made, even with a mediator, the judge will decide what is best for the child(ren) and you will have to proceed with a court-ordered parenting plan.
Child support is treated as a separate but connected issue by the Florida courts. It is considered a right of the child as every parent should financially support their children.
Child support must cover the following financial elements of raising children:
- Everyday expenses, such as food, clothing, school supplies, entertainment, etc.
- Costs of daycare and/or after-school care
- Health insurance
In Florida, we use the Income Shares Model to calculate child support obligations. This means that the calculations will be based upon the combined net income of both parents, with the financial contribution of both parents in the upbringing of the child (ren) taken into account.
Note that each child support agreement should include a provision for health insurance.
Child support orders are effective only if they can be enforced, of course. If your ex-spouse is not fulfilling his or her obligations with regards to the order, you can pursue legal action. This may involve civil or criminal action against the other party.
To pursue this, you would usually file a motion of contempt through your divorce lawyer. Unpaid child support can be recovered using several means, including:
- From your ex-spouse’s wages
- Suspending the driver’s license until it is paid
- Seizure of assets
How long does a divorce take in Orlando?
Divorces can take weeks or years, depending mainly on whether you and your spouse are able to reach a divorce agreement relatively easily or the process drags on through the courts.
In an uncontested divorce, both parties agree on the main points of discussion in a dissolution of marriage.
These are usually:
- Division of assets and liabilities
- Child custody and time-sharing/visitation arrangements
- Child support payments
- Spousal support (maintenance) payments
If the above matters are resolved easily between you and your lawyers, there is no reason why your divorce order cannot be finalized within six weeks.
However, a contested divorce means that one or more of these issues cannot be agreed upon, even with the intervention of mediators.
Then you will need court hearings for a judge to decide on the best course of action. These trials, where the stakes are high and complexities exist (especially those involving children from the marriage), can last many months or even over a year.
If the courts are busy at the time, this will further slow things down.
Sometimes, expert witnesses (about medical or financial matters, for instance) need to be called too, adding to both the cost and duration of the trial.
In Florida, a “simplified dissolution” is the best solution for arriving at a quick and easy agreement.
This is possible only where:
- Both spouses are in agreement that the marriage is over and cannot be saved
- No minor children exist from the marriage
- The wife is not pregnant at the time
- A maintenance (alimony) agreement is not necessary
- Both spouses have already reached agreement on the division of assets and liabilities
- Both spouses have disclosed all necessary financial information
- Both spouses agree that there will be no trial and no appeal
- Both spouses are available to sign the petition at the clerk’s office and attend the final hearing together
The hearing will be in front of a judge. Providing that all the paperwork has been completed, the judge may approve the dissolution of marriage and sign a Final Judgment of Simplified Dissolution of Marriage.
This is the quickest way to arrange a divorce in Orlando.