What to expect in Florida Family Court proceedings
With the new year, many are examining their circumstances as fodder for new year’s resolutions. Time to turn over a new leaf. Out with the old, in with the new. Time for a fresh start. Write a new chapter.
While it may be painful, 2024 may be the year you resolve to finalize your divorce and look forward, not backward. If you have been dragging your feet, it may help to understand what to expect in the legal and court processes.
First things first
It is smart to seek the representation of a knowledgeable family lawyer as early as possible who can explain what to expect. Your attorney can provide guidance as well as handle the legal requirements of the process in a thorough and timely manner.
In Florida, a divorce proceeding in Family Court begins with one of the spouses filing a petition. You or your spouse may have already done this. Legal counsel can advise you how to respond or how to file, and the pros and cons of being the petitioner.
We have one office in Fort Lauderdale in Broward County served by the 17th Judicial Circuit. Our Boca Raton office in Palm Beach County sits in the 15th Judicial Circuit. Most of our clients’ divorce proceedings are before family law judges in these judicial circuits.
The range of complexity that is possible in divorce proceedings is broad. An overview of the usual steps includes:
- Negotiation between the spouses, usually through their respective attorneys, to try to resolve the legal issues (alimony, property division, child custody and others) by agreement. The parties may agree to terms on one, some or all issues. The family court judge will likely approve the agreement and incorporate it into the final divorce decree.
- If negotiation is not completely successful, outstanding issues may be mediated. Mediation can be voluntary or court ordered and involves a specially trained neutral mediator who works as a conduit for negotiation between the parties. A mediator may be able to help the parties through impasses and conflict to reach agreement.
- However your divorce evolves, you and your spouse will be required to supply detailed information about assets, income, investments and debts so that a fair outcome is reached. Discovery is a formal process of exchanging information by written or oral responses to requests by the other party (or likely by their attorney). These processes may provide evidence that influence negotiation or mediation and a party’s willingness to agree.
- The case will go to trial on all outstanding issues where the judge will decide them. A formal trial is held including submission of written evidence and testimony by the parties and their witnesses. The judge may order a medical or mental examination of a party or a child of the parties or the appointment of a professional to protect a child’s interests like a guardian ad litem. In a high conflict divorce, the trial process can be stressful. Your lawyer can help you to get through this process.
- The court will issue a final divorce decree that includes resolution on all legal and factual issues.
Whatever the new year brings you on your divorce journey, we send good wishes.