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Contested divorce occurs when there is at least one issue that the parties are unable to resolve in dissolving their marriage. This often involves issues regarding the minor children such as child support, time-sharing or who will make the parental decisions. It can also be that the parties are unable to decide how to distribute the assets and liabilities amongst them. Other times the parties are unable to resolve issues of whether alimony should be paid and how much.

When a case is contested, one party is generally served with a Petition, and the party served will file his/her own Answer and Counter-Petition within twenty days. The parties then engage in the discovery process where they exchange documents (such as tax returns, bank statements, paystubs, deeds, health insurance cards, retirement statements, credit card statements, mortgage statements, etc.)

After the exchange of discovery the parties are usually required to attend mediation, where they sit down in front of a third-party mediator and attempt to resolve their case without the necessity of a judge. The mediator is a neutral party who speaks with both parties (usually in front of counsel) discussing the pros and cons of their position and attempts to reach a middle ground where both parties agree to settle all issues in the case. If mediation is successful and the parties sign an agreement resolving all issues, there is one quick final hearing to have the agreement ratified by the court and having the marriage dissolved.

If mediation is unsuccessful or only partially successful, the parties request a trial where the judge makes the final decisions on issues such as equitable distribution, alimony, child support, time-sharing, attorney's fees, etc.

During the contested process, there are often interim issues that are resolved by the court, such as temporary support, temporary time-sharing plans, motions for drug testing, motions for guardian-ad-litems, motion to compel discovery, etc. These evidentiary hearings occur after the filing of a motion and requesting a special set hearing or motion calendar hearing with the court.

Florida law that governs dissolution of marriage proceedings can be found under Florida Statute Chapter 61.

Uncontested divorce occurs when both parties come to a full agreement on all issues, including issues on time-sharing, parental responsibility, child support, alimony, distribution of marital assets and liabilities, etc. Even when a divorce is uncontested, it is important to have a properly drafted Marital Settlement Agreement and Parenting Plan (when there are minor children). Poorly drafted agreement(s) cause future problems and can end up in expensive post dissolution litigation, as well as result in an outcome that was not what a party believes was agreed upon.

It is for this reason that it is suggested that an attorney be retained to assist with the drafting of the Marital Settlement Agreement and Parenting Plan. Retaining an attorney to draft these documents can result in fractions of the cost that you could save in post dissolution protracted litigation.

In addition, family law attorneys deal with dissolution issues on a daily basis. There are often issues that the parties themselves are not aware of that should be included in settlement agreements.

Pro se divorces are divorces where the Husband and/or the Wife decide to represent themselves. Since representation can be expensive, parties seeking a divorce often find themselves without counsel. This generally is not recommended, especially if the other party has retained counsel. Pro Se litigants are at a significant disadvantage of not being familiar with the dissolution process as well as the laws that govern divorces.

There are a few solutions to representing oneself in a divorce case. First, shop around and find an attorney who practices family law who can represent you. The hourly rates of family law attorneys as well as the retainer they request to represent someone vary significantly. Thus, if cost is a concern, my suggest is for you to "shop around". Find a lawyer who is willing to work with you. They exist if you search hard enough. The second suggestion is to retain an attorney on a limited basis. Attorneys can represent you in merely an advisory capacity where you obtain advice from them and file your own pleadings and/or motions. They also can be retained to assist you in assisting with preparing pleadings and/or motions, or attending certain hearings, etc. If finances are tight, hiring an experienced family law attorney on a limited basis may be a better solution than attempting to represent yourself.

For more information, please see my blog: Can I File for Divorce Myself, or Do I Really Need a Family Law Attorney?

Every person has a right to live in a home safe from harm. The courts recognize this and assist those who are not safe by permitting them to file (free of charge) a Petition for Injunction Against Domestic Violence. The Petition is initially reviewed by a judge (generally the same day it is filed), and if the court finds that the petitioner has a reasonable and imminent fear for his/her safety, a Temporary Injunction is entered by the judge. This injunction stays in place until the alleged abuser is served with the temporary injunction and is provided a date to come to court for an evidentiary hearing where both parties present their case to the court.

Often the "alleged" victim and/or the "alleged" abuser proceed to the final hearing without counsel. This is not recommended as most individuals are unaware of the law and/or how to properly present their case in court. Rules of evidence (including hearsay) rules are extremely complicated. If the evidence is not presented to the court properly, the court could dismiss your action. There is also additional remedies that can be provided in an injunction action, to with child support, exclusive use of the home, preventing "alleged" abuser from coming to your workplace, having a temporary time-sharing schedule determined by the court, etc.

On the other hand, unfortunately, there are times where a domestic violence injunction is used for improper purposes. In these cases, it is important for that person to obtain counsel as a injunction can have significant repercussions (i.e. inability to own guns, public record of case, being prevented from going to certain places, etc. It is important to retain an attorney to provide you with the best possible defense to prevent this from occurring.

Florida law that governs Domestic Violence can be found in Florida Statutes 741.

In the state of Florida, if you no longer live with your minor child's other parent, there are statutory limitations on moving with your minor child. These limitations begin if (a) you move 50 miles or more from the residence at the time of the divorce (or other time sharing court order), and (b) the move extends 60 days or beyond. If this occurs, the statute requires you to either obtain written consent of the other parent or obtain a court order permitting you to relocate prior to moving. If you fail to do so prior to relocating, the Court will enter an order, upon request, requiring the minor child to return to the jurisdiction the child previously resided.

In order to relocate over the objection of one parent, you must prove that the move is in the best interest of the minor child. This burden is not always easy to prove. The Court looks at, among other things, (a) the relationships between the child and the parents, siblings, etc. and what effect the move will have on this relationship, along with the ability to preserve the relationships; (b) the age and needs of the child; (c) the child's preference; (d) the quality of life the move will provide to the parent and child; (e) the reasons for relocation and for opposing relocation; (f) financial situation of each parent and whether relocation is necessary to improve same; (g) if the other parent has any financial obligation outstanding to the relocating parent; (h) career opportunities that result from relocation; and (i) whether there is any substance abuse or domestic violence history between the parties.

It is strongly suggested that you obtain representation if you are involved in a relocation case as this area of law is extremely complex and the issue involved is a very serious one-your relationship with your child.

Florida Statutes governing relocations is located at 61.13001.

Child support is provided by the court to the parent who has the most time-sharing with the minor child. The amount of child support to be paid is determined based upon the incomes of the parties and other factors such as the amount of childcare paid, and the amount of health insurance paid.

The hiring of an attorney to assist in calculating child support is important so that the proper documents are reviewed to ensure that child support is set at the proper amounts. In addition, the calculations can vary based upon the amount of court ordered time the other parents spends with the child if the amount of overnight time-sharing is at least 20% (73 overnights). A parent who does not receive court ordered time with a child can file a paternity and time-sharing action or counter-claim, which can then be considered in the child support calculations.

Florida Statutes governing child support is located at 61.30.

A Final Judgment can be modified to make certain changes that may be needed. This can include changes to the amount and/or duration of alimony awarded, the amount of child support awarded, the amount of time-sharing awarded for the minor children, etc.

In order to file a modification action, the party requesting the modification must prove to the court that there is a substantial change in circumstances that was not contemplated during the prior action which is permanent in nature. It is important to obtain advice from an attorney prior to filing such an action to determine if you situation will likely be considered a substantial change to permit a modification of the previous Final Judgment.

A paternity action is filed to require the natural father of a minor child born out of wedlock to be deemed the legal father of the child. This is generally requested by the natural father to obtain certain legal rights to the minor child, such as the ability to make decisions regarding the child's well-being or to obtain time-sharing with the child.

It is extremely important for a father to file a paternity action as often unwed fathers are not afforded legal rights for a minor child until paternity has been established by law.

Law governing paternity actions can be found under Florida Statutes 742.

Name change actions become necessary in family law for several reason. First if the wife does not request that her maiden name be restored during the initial dissolution action and later desires to do so, she will be required to file a Name Change action. Also, parents, at times want to have the minor child's name changed, or have the entire family's name changed.

Name change actions generally require the consent of both parents if the minor child's name will be changed. Otherwise the court will have to find that the name change is in the child’s best interest. Proving, over the objection of one parent, that the name change is in the child's best interest, can be quite difficult, and a lawyer should be consulted before attempting to do so.

With any name change, the party whose name will be changed is required to have fingerprinting done and a background check is performed.

The law governing name changes can be found under Florida Statute 68.07.

After a Final Judgment is entered in the initial case, should one party fail to comply with the order, the other party can often enforce the order or have the person held in contempt. In order to do so, the language in the Final Judgment must be clear and unambigious and the party's failure to comply must be willful.

There are different remedies available in contempt proceedings depending on what the contempt is for. For example, if someone fails to pay child support, one remedy is having the non-paying party incarcerated or requiring a purge to be paid. Other remedies include having Income Deduction Orders entered. If the contempt is for failing to permit time-sharing with the minor child, the remedies often include requesting make-up time and, for severe cases requesting a change in the parent who has the majority of the time-sharing. Each case has different remedy options, and a lawyer should be consulted to determine what remedies are available.

Custody is no longer a term used in family law in the State of Florida. The Court now uses the term time-sharing. The Courts are required to have Parenting Plans entered when time-sharing is an issue in a case. Parenting Plans are entered in paternity and divorce cases and at times in modification and/or relocation cases. A Parenting Plan is known as the "bible" for parents as it relates to their rights and obligations for the minor child. Issues such as parental responsibility, time-sharing, holiday schedules, the rights to travel, education and extracurricular activities are discussed in the Parenting Plan.

The Florida Supreme Court has prepared a suggested Parenting Plan which can be found HERE.

Consulting a family law lawyer prior to executing a Parenting Plan is highly recommended. Family law lawyers are familiar with the language that is necessary to ensure that the Parenting Plan will not be set aside by a court as not being in the best interest of a child. Family law lawyers are also able to provide the advice needed to prevent the Parenting Plan from containing vague terms or terms that may require court interpretation at a later point. There is nothing more important to most parents than their children. Having a sound Parenting Plan prepared can protect a parent's rights and enable that parent to establish or maintain a lifelong and lasting relationship with their child.

Prenuptials and postnuptials become very important when one or both parties wishes to protect certain assets acquired prior to the marriage. There are very specific requirements that are required to ensure that a prenuptial or postnuptial is not set aside by a court later, should a party ever seek to obtain a dissolution thereafter. It is for this reason that it is important to consult with an attorney if you are interested in having a prenuptial or postnuptial prepared.

While most people say the State of Florida does not have grandparent rights, there are certain circumstances where grandparents and/or other family members can exercise rights when it comes to minor children. For example, Florida Statute 751. Here the court can enter an order providing a family member with temporary custody of a minor child until such time as the parents are able and fit to care for the minor children. This statute is only permitted where the family member has already been caring for the minor child. A family law lawyer can assist in determining if a grandparent or other family law member is able to obtain temporary custody of a minor child using this statute.

A Guardian Ad Litem in family law actions (i.e. divorce and paternity actions) is a third party that is appointed to help the court determine what is in the best interest of a minor child. The Guardian is often given the task of speaking/interviewing various persons such as teachers, medical providers, neighbors, the children, the parents, relatives, etc. to provide the court with a report and recommendations as to what that Guardian believes would be in the best interest of the minor child (generally on issues such as time-sharing and/or relocation). A Guardian Ad Litem is often used to attempt to resolve issues and reduce the likelihood of having to proceed to trial on issues involving the children.