Florida Dissolution of Marriage: The Process and What To Expect
Each divorce case has its own unique set of facts and circumstances. What happened in a friend’s or relative’s divorce will have no application to how your case should be handled or how it will turn out. Recognizing this truth, it is not possible to predict exactly what steps an individual case will take without first hearing and discussing the specific details involved in your case. Broadly stated, however, most dissolution of marriage cases proceed in the following manner.
Filing for Dissolution of Marriage: Commencement of Dissolution of Marriage occurs when a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed with the court, usually in the county where the petitioner or parties reside. Once the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed, the legal proceedings officially begin.
Service on non-filing spouse: Once a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed, the non-filing spouse will be served with the petition. Service is the means by which the non-filing party receives a copy of the petition. The laws regarding the acceptable methods of service are complex. If you have questions concerning proper methods of service, you should contact an experienced Jacksonville divorce attorney for help.
Filing a response: Once served with the Petition, the non-filing spouse, also known as the Respondent, has 20 days to respond with an Answer to the Petition. Failure to file an Answer within the 20 day time period will allow the Petitioner to request a default judgment to be entered against you in the case. A default filed against you will preclude you from having your side of the case considered by the court, which obviously can have serious consequences. If the Respondent files an Answer that agrees with all the terms laid out in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, then the divorce proceedings will be considered uncontested and a hearing date will be set at which time a final judgment will be entered. If the Respondent does not agree to any of the terms included in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, then he or she will represent that position in their Answer and the divorce proceedings will be considered contested, and trial on the disputed issues will be necessary if agreement cannot be reached prior to the date of the Final Hearing.
Mandatory Disclosure Requirement: Each party in a Dissolution of Marriage case is required to provide the other party with certain financial information and documents. The information and documents must be provided to the other party within 45 days of service of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The amount of information and number of documents can be substantial, so initiating compliance with disclosure should not be delayed.
Mediation/Negotiation/Settlement: Sometimes, when the terms of the Dissolution of Marriage are contested, it is possible to still reach a resolution on disputed issues without having to go to trial. The court will expect that both parties, along with their attorneys, and with a mediator, will attempt to work together to try to find terms upon which the parties can agree. If the parties are able to reach an agreement on disputed substantive issues, then they can present their agreement to the judge on the day of their final hearing (trial), and the judge will enter it in the record and final order as the Marital Settlement Agreement. If agreement was not possible, then the parties will have to proceed to trial. Unfortunately, when this is the result, the decision making power over their lives regarding these disputed issues is transferred from the parties themselves to the judge, who will make the decision for them after considering all the evidence presented and the legal arguments made in behalf of their client by each respective attorney.
Trial: When agreement cannot be reached on important issues involved in your case, a trial on those issues becomes necessary, where you will be able to present to the court your evidence and witnesses in support of the outcome you seek. The other party will do likewise, and then the judge, after hearing all testimony and considering all evidence admitted at the final hearing, as well as listening to the legal arguments made by counsel, will decide and make the final determination.
Final Judgment: After each party presents their case before the court, the judge will make the final decision on all matters in dispute, and each party will be required to abide by whatever decisions the judge makes. If a party disagrees with a decision made by the judge, an appeal from that decision may be available, but that will require separate appellate proceedings and a new retaining agreement for representation with the attorney of your choice.
The process of filing for Dissolution of Marriage can be complicated. Statutory guidelines and rules of court must be followed to ensure that your case is properly presented and heard. If you are considering filing for Dissolution of Marriage, or if you have been served in a Dissolution of Marriage proceeding, contact our Jacksonville divorce attorneys today to schedule an initial consultation. Should you elect to retain our Firm, Michael will work with you personally to determine the best way to proceed with your case, aggressively advocating for the results you would like to achieve. The Trerotola Firm, a Jacksonville and surrounding counties marital and family law firm, is available to discuss your case today.
The Trerotola Firm, P.A.
4651 Salisbury Road, Suite 494
Jacksonville, Florida 32256