A Florida Divorce Overview
A divorce case in Florida is begun by filing a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage" with the Clerk of the Circuit Court. If a case is filed in Pinellas County, Florida the case will be filed at either the St. Petersburg Courthouse or at the Clearwater Courthouse depending upon the location of the filing attorney's office. The Respondent - the person served with the divorce petition - must file an Answer within 20 days.
All divorce cases in Florida are heard by a judge, not a jury (unless paternity or personal injury is involved, those issues can be tried by a jury). Judges do not want excessive emotion brought into their courtrooms. Therefore, a good divorce attorney will ensure his client will be calm in the artificial environment known as a courtroom. The demeanor of a client in court, whether testifying or not, will be observed by the judge. Many divorce cases are heard in a judge's chambers (office), except for trials and hearings involving numerous witnesses.
A Florida divorce case is begun by filing a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage" with the Clerk of the Circuit Court. If a case is filed in Pinellas County, Florida the case will be filed at either the St. Petersburg Courthouse or at the Clearwater Courthouse depending upon the location of the filing attorney's office. The Respondent - the person served with the divorce petition - must file an Answer within 20 days. The Answer often includes a "Counterpetition for Dissolution of Marriage" (which is a divorce petition within a divorce petition). During the case, each divorce attorney has the right to obtain "discovery" (i.e., information and documents, often financially related) from the other attorney. There are five types of discoveryin Florida: (1) mandatory disclosure, (2) depositions, (3) interrogatories, (4) request to produce documents, and (5) request for admissions. The Respondent has 45 days to respond to discovery request served upon him/her. Thereafter, either party who receives a discovery request must respond within 30 days. The following is a summary of the discovery types: (1) Mandatory Disclosure - This is a relatively new form of discovery in Florida divorce cases. Both parties are required to exchange 16 categories of documents within 45 days after a divorce lawsuit is served upon the Respondent. This "mandatory disclosure" can be waived by the parties, but should not be waived in cases involving significant assets and/or liabilities. However, the filing of a "Financial Affidavit" (which is part of mandatory disclosure) cannot be waived. A Financial Affidavit is the most important financial document filed by each party in a divorce case. It contains detailed information about one's income, monthly expenses, assets, and liabilities. Florida law permits a final judgment of divorce to be reopened at any time if a spouse filed a significantly inaccurate Financial Affidavit. (2) A "deposition" is an out-of-court questioning of a party or witness to obtain information and/or obtain a statement which may be used to impeach the deponent if he/she testified differently at trial. Depositions are usually held in the court reporter's office and can last from a few minutes to a day or longer. Both attorneys, the parties, the deponent, and a court reporter are present. (3) "Interrogatories" are simply written questions. Even though Florida law permits divorce lawyers to add up to ten additional questions to the form Standard Family Law Interrogatories, most attorneys surprisingly do not do so. (4) "Request to Produce Documents" is a written demand that the opposing party produces a copy of listed documents with 30 days. The receiving the request has a right to object to the production of all or a portion of the documents. (5) A "Request for Admissions" is a tool by which the other party is required to admit or deny a list of facts.
If divorce lawyers attempt to delay a divorce case, there exists a little used, but very effective, tool in Florida divorce cases is called a "Case Management Conference." A CMC is a short hearing and is often used if an opposing attorney is delaying a case. The parties of a divorce case can settle their case without mediation through a "Marital Settlement Agreement"). However, it is more typical that cases are settled through mediation (by a "Mediated Agreement". A mediator has no power and the sole function of a mediator is to facilitate settlement if possible. Proceedings are confidential. Mediation is required in Florida divorce cases before any hearing for temporary relief or trial. The benefits of settlement, with or without mediation, is saving substantial attorney fees and costs, eliminating the time and emotion of trial, and having a certain result of a settlement agreement, and not relying on the judge to make all decisions for both parties.
If mediation is unsuccessful, then trial is the only remaining option, unless the parties settle before trial. The problem with a late settlement is the cost of additional attorney fees and litigation costs. The judge will schedule a Pretrial Conference. Each attorney, under Florida law, is required to file a Pretrial Conference Statement which lists the lay witnesses, expert witnesses, documents anticipated to be introduced at trial, the stipulations (attorney agreements) to reduce unnecessary issues at trial, the estimated length of trial, etc. The judge will schedule the trial date (often 60-90 days after the Pretrial Conference). Typically, attorney fees for trial, including the preparation and attendance at trial, will be three to four times more than the attorney fees previously incurred.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Richard C. Griesinger
Richard C. Griesinger is among the most experienced divorce attorneys in Pinellas County, Florida. His practice is limited exclusively to divorce law. His typical cases have involved contested, and often complex, issues of custody and visitation (now "time sharing"), alimony, and equitable distribution. He served as Asst. City Attorney of Clearwater, Florida from 1977 to 1985 when he began private practice in North Pinellas County. Mr. Griesinger believes that a good divorce attorney, above all else, should be an expert problem solver. Therefore, he takes pride in his research and case analytical skills as well as his straightforward approach with clients. His office is located at 31119 U.S. 19 N., Palm Harbor, FL 34684.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.