Many thousands of marriages are terminated in Florida each year. The national divorce rate is an estimated 10.9%. The divorce rate in Florida is 12.9%, exceeding the national average. State statute no longer uses the term “divorce.” It has been changed to the “dissolution of marriage.”
Across the state, there are local court venues that are responsible for handling legal matters related to families. These are often called family law or domestic relations courts. Some of the issues handled include adoption, child support, domestic violence, paternity, and more. Across Palm Beach County, the Unified Family Court now has four locations.
Local laws are based on statutes implemented at the state level. The rules regarding filing for divorce are contained within Title XLIII Domestic Relations. State law will sometimes change as a result of federal laws. For example, Florida began issuing “same-sex” marriage licenses in 2015 following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The majority of U.S. states have a formal means where a married couple may become legally separated. This is often the initial phase of the divorce process where couples sign a formal separation agreement that is legally binding.
A legal separation typically coincides with court orders that may involve child custody, child and spousal support, and other similar obligations. Although there are some similarities, a legal separation does not terminate the marriage as divorce proceedings do.
Florida does not recognize legal separation in state statute. This applies regardless of whether the parties are living physically separate or not. Judges cannot approve separation agreements. The other states that do not recognize separation include Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
Florida is among several states that do not recognize fault among couples seeking to end a marriage. Either party to the marriage may initiate a dissolution filing. To qualify for termination, at least one party must prove that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” The marriage must be legally proven to exist and at least one party must have been a Florida resident for six months.
Although neither party is deemed to be at fault, the court may consider the circumstances. The reason for the irretrievable breakdown may be considered according to “limited circumstances.” This consideration applies to rulings regarding child support and alimony, as well as the division of assets.
Another justification for the dissolution of marriage is if a party has a “mental incapacity”. It must be proven that this party has been incapacitated for a minimum of three years. Blood relatives and guardians of the party alleged to be incapacitated have a right to address the court.
If the party alleged to be incapacitated does not have a guardian, the court may appoint one. The party pursuing the dissolution in any such case may be court-ordered to pay alimony or other forms of support.
There are two options for filing dissolution with a court. The methods include the “Regular Dissolution of Marriage” or the “Simplified Dissolution of Marriage.” It is recommended that the parties discuss these options with their attorney.
To qualify for the simplified method the couple must meet the following criteria:
The simplified dissolution method is often referred to as an “uncontested” divorce in many other family or domestic jurisdictions. Court representation may be able to assist with general questions. Clerks, judges, and others are not a source for legal advice.
If the parties are willing to amicably dissolve the marriage they may enter a “collaborative law participation agreement.” This is commonly referred to as a voluntary dispute resolution option. It is often an option for couples that would otherwise choose a simplified dissolution if they met the requirements.
The legislature acknowledges that a collaborative process with some uniform guidelines is preferred. The state encourages “peaceful resolution” that maintains a “working relationship” that avoids costly and potentially emotional litigation.
The collaborative process may be used to resolve various issues. This includes distributing marital property, child custody and visitation, alimony, marital agreements, and more. Both parties and their legal counsel must willingly sign the agreement.
The parties are typically required to fully disclose many details regarding income and assets to create a financial affidavit. This process may involve creating a worksheet that is used to assess and calculate issues such as child support.
The Palm Beach County Unified Family Court does encourage the use of mediation. This involves the “objective intervention of a neutral party” or mediators to assist in reaching mutually acceptable solutions. Mediation is another tool for avoiding contested proceedings where the court must make decisions to resolve the case.
The goal is to achieve a formalized written agreement that can then be presented to the court. If this occurs, the court may accept the settlement and order a final judgment.
At the law firm of Roy & Associates, P.A we understand that family legal matters are often highly emotional. You should seek guidance from an experienced attorney. We have been representing clients in various aspects of Florida family law for many years. We encourage you to contact the office today at (561) 729-0095.