Communication, Preparation
& Cost Realization

"Helping people get through difficult family situations through experience, communication, and preparation."

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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Q: How much does the divorce cost?

A: Some of the costs of a divorce are fixed. First, the Clerk of the Court charges $401.00 to file an divorce (unless found indigent) and $10.00 to issue a summons. Process servers generally charge approximately $50.00 to have your spouse served with the action. If your spouse already filed and you wish to file a counter-petition, the court will charge you $395.00. The costs which are fluid are the attorney's fees costs. Most family law attorney can charge anywhere from $200.00 per hour to $400.00 per hour. You often pay for the time the attorney expends on your case. The more complex the case, the more the cost. Additional costs are mediation fees, which can run $30.00 per hour (for courthouse mediation) to $200.00-$400.00 per hour for a private mediator. There can be additional costs for court reporters, private investigators, appraisers, vocational experts, guardian ad litems, psychological evaluations and other experts, depending on the complexity of the case.




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Q: How long does it take to get divorced?

A: This is another difficult questions. Simple uncontested divorce cases can be concluded in a matter of several weeks. However, complex contested cases have been known to take years to conclude. It is no uncommon for a contested case that is resolved in mediation to take from five to eight months to resolve, where a contested case that is resolved at trial often takes ten months to two years to resolve.




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Q: What is the general process?

A: One party first files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. After the case is filed, the other spouse is served. Once that spouse is served, the spouse has 20 days to Answer the Petition. In addition, both parties have 45 days from the time the spouse is served to provide mandatory discovery. Once both parties have provided discovery to the other, the court generally requires to the parties to attend mediation. If the case is resolved at mediation, a quick final hearing is set where the judge enters a final judgment dissolving the marriage. If the case is not resolved at mediation, one party generally notices the case for trial and the judge sets a trial date for the case to be heard. During this process, it is quite common for the parties to set issues to be heard by the court before trial (i.e. requesting child support, or asking to appoint a guardian ad litem, or asking for temporary alimony or attorney's fees, etc.)




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Q: How long do I have to Answer if I am served with papers?

A: You have 20 days from the date you are served to file a RESPONSIVE PLEADING. That does not always mean an answer. There are times when a Motion to Dismiss should be filed instead. It is important to file your Motion to Dismiss first as failing to do so may waive your right to request dismissal later. Consulting with an attorney before filing an Answer is generally recommended.




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Q: What is Mandatory Disclosure?

A: Mandatory Disclosure is certain financial documents that each side is required to provide the other spouse/parent to assist in resolving the financial issues in the case such as child support, alimony and payment of attorney's fees. Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 12.285 lists all the documents that must be produced along with the deadlines for same (generally 45 days from the date of service of process-except in cases with temporary hearings).




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Q: Do I need a lawyer?

A: There is no law that requires a party to be represented in family law cases. However, a lawyer can provide you with the knowledge of what documents are required to be filed, what evidence is necessary to prove your case to the court and what the law is.




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Q: What do I bring with me to my consultation?

A: To obtain the best legal advice possible, you should bring, at a minimum, any pleadings already filed in the case, tax returns for the past three years, current paystubs for the other party (when possible) and yourself, a list of current assets and liabilities, childcare costs (if there are children) and health insurance costs for all parties and children (if any). It is not always possible to have all of these documents for the first consultation, but the more of these documents that you have, the more accurate the legal advice you receive will be.




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Q: What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

A: A Guardian Ad Litem is someone (often an attorney) that is appointed to assist the court in determining what is in the best interest of the child for relevant issues that the court will have to decide related to that child. Often guardians are used to assist with issues such a time-sharing (previously known as visitation), parental alienation issues, abuse, and relocation issues.




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Q: What is a Parenting Coordinator?

A: A Parenting Coordinator is someone generally appointed by the court when the parents are unable to make joint decisions with regard to the children. The Parenting Coordinator is often a mental health counselor or psychologist who has the experience needed to assist the parties in this regard.




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Q: What is Mediation?

A: Mediation is where a third neutral party meets with the parties (and their attorneys) and attempts to assist the parties in settling their own issues. A mediator has no power to order the parties to do anything and merely acts as a facilitator. Mediation is a confidential process (barring a few exceptions). Mediation is required in family law cases with minor children, and is often ordered by the court even in cases where there are no children. The court has a low cost mediation program that offers the parties 2 hours of mediation to attempt to resolve their issues. If the mediation is productive, but not resolved, additional 2 hours sessions can be scheduled but they are often weeks or even months apart. Private mediation is often conducted by attorneys, CPA or counselors, and while more expensive, can be scheduled for as much time as is needed to resolve the case in one sitting. Private mediation often can be from 2 hours to 10 hours (or more).




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Q: What does no fault divorce mean?

A: Long ago in order to obtain a divorce, a party was required to show "fault" on the other party. The law no longer requires this. All a party must show is "irreconcilable differences" in order to obtain a divorce. This is basically accomplished by pleading it in the Petition/Counter-Petition and having the party testify to same in court.




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Q: I or my children are being abused- how do I get help?

A: A temporary injunction against domestic violence can be obtained to protect individuals and/or children to ensure they are safe. There is no filing fee for filing a petition. A judge will review the petition on the same day it is filed and make a determination as to whether or not to grant the petition that day. If the petition is granted, an order will be entered immediately to ensure the individual is protected and the court will set a full hearing for both parties to present their evidence within 14 days. If the evidence presented at the hearing shows that the party has reason to fear imminent harm will come to them, a final injunction will be issued to protect them. Additional information can be obtained at WOMEN IN DISTRESS. The forms that will be required to be completed can be obtained at Supreme Court Website. You should consult an attorney, when possible, to ensure that the petition is properly completed and to ensure that you are able to prove your case at the hearing thereafter.




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Q: What is Alimony?

A: Alimony is a request from one spouse for financial assistance from the other spouse. There afer various forms of alimony, to wit: temporary, bridge-the-gap, lump sum, permanent, nominal and durational. Florida law discussing alimony and the factors can be found at: FLORIDA STATUTE 61.08; FLORIDA STATUTES 61.09 AND FLORIDA STATUTES 61.071. Alimony can only be obtained when one spouse has the financial ability to pay it and the other party has the need for it (except nominal which only requires one spouse to have a need). The issue of alimony is a complicated area of law that is always changing. It is best to consult with an attorney if you wish to receive alimony.




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Q: What is Time-Sharing?

A: Time-sharing used to be called visitation. Time-sharing schedules can vary, but there is a trend toward 50/50 timesharing when both parents are able and the distances between the two parents permits. Time-sharing factors can be found under FLORIDA STATUTE 61.13(3).




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Q: What is Parental Responsibility?

A: Parental Responsibility is how major decisions (medical, educational, extra-curricular activities, etc.) regarding the minor child(ren) shall be decided. Sole parental responsibility is where one parent is provided the absolute power to make these decisions. Shared parental responsibility, which is most often awarded in dissolution cases, is where both parties must jointly confer and decide together on all major decisions. Parental Responsibility is discussed under FLORIDA STATUTE 61.13.




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Q: What is Equitable Distribution?

A: Equitable distribution is a fair distribution of the parties marital assets and liabilities. Generally, the courts split all marital assets 50/50. However, there are certain circumstances when an unequal distribution is awarded by the Court. Equitable Distribution is discussed under FLORIDA STATUTE 61.075.




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Q: Is there any way to get my spouse to pay my attorney's fees?

A: Yes. Attorney's fees can be awarded to be paid by a spouse when that spouse has a better ability to pay and the other spouse has a need. Attorney's fees are discussed under FLORIDA STATUTE 61.16.




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Q: Do I have to take a parenting course to get a divorce?

A: Yes. There is a four hour mandatory (FLORIDA STATUTE 61.21) family law course that needs to be taken shortly after an action is filed. There are many providers who offer the course online and in person.




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Q: Can I leave with my child?

A: This depends. Please refer to FLORIDA STATUTE 61.13001.




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Q: Can I file an annulment instead of a divorce?

A: Generally not recommended. There are only rare situations where annulments have been granted by the court. Annulments are mostly governed by case law instead of by statute, giving court's a lot of discretion in granting or denying same. Often, it is better to simply file a dissolution of marriage. If you prefer to try an annulment instead, you may wish to speak to an attorney to determine your chances of success.




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Q: Do grandparents have any time-sharing rights?

A: While FLORIDA STATUTES 752 provide various scenarios where the grandparents do have this right, the courts have generally found that the statues are unconstitutional and have denied the rights to the grandparents. However, FLORIDA STATUTES 751 are still available to grandparents.




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Q: If I pay child support, why don't I have time-sharing (visitation) with my child?

A: In order for a father who was not married to the mother to obtain time-sharing with the minor child, a paternity action requesting time-sharing must be filed. Often child support actions are filed by the state. The courts generally require a separate paternity action be filed in order to request time-sharing. However, since time-sharing can reduce a child support obligation, a father not only benefits by enjoying time with his child(ren) but also benefits financially by filing this action.