Does the petitioner in Florida divorce proceedings gain any advantage?
The answer is – sometimes, depending on your goals and circumstances. This issue is complicated, so sitting down for a discussion with an experienced family lawyer who knows the obvious as well as the subtle reasons to file a petition for divorce – or to sit back and let your spouse file – is in your interest. The information and advice you get will give you more perspective and knowledge with which to decide.
First, if you think your spouse will not file a timely response with the court, you may get a default judgment, meaning a judgment without any input from the other side. It is possible that the terms of a default judgment could be favorable to you, since you can request what you want and your spouse will not have shown up to challenge you on issues like property division, alimony, child support and others. However, if you have a child, the court may be hesitant to handle issues that must be decided in the child’s best interest without access to the bigger picture of your spouse’s situation.
Get the ball rolling
Second, if you file the petition, to an extent you have some influence over the timeline of the proceedings. Your spouse will have 20 days from being served with the petition to either file an answer or a counterpetition and the proceedings take off from there.
Third, if you know or suspect that your spouse is hiding or selling assets or spending money to avoid having to share them in the division of your property, starting the legal proceeding may help to stop this.
Choose the venue
Fourth, if you file, you get to choose which Florida court in which to file. Normally, the petitioner should file in the county where you and your spouse last lived together with the intention to stay married. However, in certain circumstances, you may be able to file in the county where your spouse lives or in your county of choice if your spouse lives out of the state and you never lived in Florida as a married couple.
Your attorney can advise you of advantages or disadvantages of a certain venue. For example, the way the courts in one county decide an issue important to you may be favorable over that of another county’s courts. Sometimes it may just be a matter of convenience.
Fifth, if you file the petition, you can take the time and make the effort to organize your personal affairs and legal documents as well as to contact experts for opinions ahead of time, such as retaining your lawyer and hiring other professionals like appraisers, accountants or real estate brokers to help you understand and value the marital assets.
Whether to file for divorce or wait for your spouse to do so is complicated – it would be smart to talk to a lawyer as early as possible to understand your options.