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 (known as equitable distribution) amongst themselves. 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 mandatory documents (such as tax returns, bank statements, paystubs, deeds, health insurance cards, retirement statements, credit card statements, mortgage statements, and a Financial Affidavit).
This is a time consuming portion of the process, but often one of the most important portions. It is during this process that the attorney determines and verifies the parties’ incomes, their assets and liabilities.
Often with a thorough search hidden assets can be found by the other party.
After the exchange of discovery the parties are usually required to attend mediation.
Mediation is a process where both parties 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 respective position and attempts to reach a middle ground where both parties can 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, parental responsibility, 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-litem, 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.
It is important to have an attorney represent you in a contested divorce action. This is because there are rules of evidence that the Court follows that could prevent a person not represented from getting in important evidence.
If you are unable to get this evidence before the Court, you may be unable to prove certain things to the Court.
In addition, there are various processes we use to get the evidence needed to prove your case. We issues subpoenas, take depositions, request documents, etc.
Further, it is very difficult and often impossible to undo the damage that can occur when parties attempt to represent themselves. Once you have had your day in court, there are limited (and at times no remedies) available to correct errors that may have occurred due to the inability to prove your case.
Florida law that governs dissolution of marriage proceedings can be found under Florida Statute Chapter 61.