Florida Contested Divorce Procedures
By Beverly Bird
A contested divorce doesn’t necessarily mean you and your spouse disagree on every issue involved in ending your marriage. You might agree to custody, but not alimony or to property division and not custody. Any time one issue remains unresolved between spouses, the divorce is considered contested.
Petition and Service
There are two ways to begin a divorce in Florida. You can file a petition for a simplified dissolution of your marriage or for a regular dissolution. The simplified version means you've got an agreement with your spouse resolving all issues; thus, it is an uncontested matter requiring the simplified dissolution form. Contested divorces require regular petitions. They're filed with the circuit court. The court clerk issues a summons directing either the sheriff or a private process server to hand-deliver the filed petition to your spouse. Your spouse has 20 days to answer your petition by filing pleadings of his own, and he will invariably do so if you're contesting issues.
In Florida, contested divorces require "mandatory disclosure." This involves both spouses completing an extensive form called a financial affidavit. The affidavit details things like your budget, income, assets and debts. When spouses have children, much of the same information must be included in a mandatory child support worksheet. You must file a copy of both the affidavit and worksheet with the court. You must exchange copies with your spouse as well within 45 days after your spouse receives your petition for dissolution.
Motions for Temporary Relief
Contested divorces often include issues that can't wait for resolution until the divorce is final. You might need child support, alimony or a parenting plan. One or both spouses might file motions, called "requests for temporary relief" in Florida, to ask a judge to issue orders regarding these things right away. The orders last until the divorce is final. They don't usually address issues of property, unless it's to grant one spouse use of certain property until the trial.
Spouses can't reach a settlement and judges can't rule on issues until they know all the facts of a case. In Florida and elsewhere, this usually involves exchanging "discovery." Spouses don't have to issue discovery requests if they don't want to, but if they do, the other spouse must comply. Discovery procedures include things such as subpoenas issued to financial institutions requesting documentation, requests for documentation from the other spouse, and sometimes interrogatories and depositions. Both interrogatories and depositions involve questions spouses must answer under oath. Interrogatories are written questions. Depositions are oral questions usually conducted in the presence of a court reporter.
Many Florida counties require couples to attend mediation before a judge will rule on their unresolved issues. Mediation involves hiring a third party professional to help you try and negotiate a settlement. Some counties offer mediation through the court so spouses don't have to pay for it. Otherwise, Florida mediators usually charge by the hour.
After you attend mediation, the court will set a date for your trial. Few contested cases make it that far, however. If spouses don't settle at mediation, they often do so at some point between the end of mediation and the trial date. If they do, they can present their written agreement to the judge when they appear for trial and their divorce will close as an uncontested matter. If a settlement isn't reached, Florida usually conducts dissolution trials in the judge's chambers, not in the open courtroom. However, all the same rules regarding evidence and testimony apply.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.