A contested dissolution of marriage action is defined as a divorce case where any single issue remains in dispute. Simply put, the parties were unable to reach an agreement on all of the issues arising from their marriage and court intervention will be necessary to resolve the outstanding issues for them.
An uncontested dissolution of marriage action is defined as a divorce case where there are no issues in dispute because either (a) there were no issues (there are no children, there no marital assets or marital debts to divide, and there is no need/ability to pay spousal support) and each party agrees to sign the necessary paperwork to complete the divorce, or (b) there were issues in dispute arising out of the marriage but those issues were resolved by the parties in a formal signed settlement agreement prior to the filing of the action.
In all family law actions involving minor children, the Court is required to include a parenting plan in its final judgment which establishes the parent’s parental responsibility, time sharing rights and child support obligations.
Parental Responsibility is generally a detailed description on how the parents will share and be responsible for the daily tasks associated with child rearing including who will be responsible for any and all forms of health care, school related matters, other activities, and the methods and technology to be used by the parents to communicate with regard to the health, education and welfare of the children. Parental responsibility can be shared by the parents or one of the parents can awarded sole responsibility to make decisions for the minor children.
Time Sharing, formerly known as visitation, is the schedule that specifies the time a minor child will spend with each parent including a division of holidays and breaks from school.
Child Support is a right belonging solely to the child and a set of guidelines established by the Florida legislature is used to determine the amount of child support to be paid from one parent to the other. Child support is not a requirement imposed by one parent on the other, but rather a dual obligation imposed on both parents by the State of Florida. Child support is based upon the party’s respective percentages of income, the cost of health insurance for the children, the cost of daycare for the children, and the amount of time sharing each parent has with the children. The parents’ share of responsibility for the cost of the children’s uncovered medical and dental expenses and extra-curricular activities can also be established by the court.
It is quite common that one spouse will have a genuine need and the other spouse will have an ability to pay financial assistance following dissolution of marriage. In these cases, the Court can award periodic monthly installments of spousal support, for a fixed or indefinite period of time. Presently, there is no set of guidelines or formula to determine alimony or spousal support; however, the legislature has promulgated numerous factors for the court to consider, including but not limited to, the length of marriage, the disparity of the party’s incomes, the age and health of the parties, contributions made to the marriage by each party, earning potential of the parties, tax consequences of an award of alimony, and the lifestyle the party’s were accustomed to living during the intact marriage.
Equitable distribution is the legal process by which the Court determines the marital (and non-marital) assets and debts of the parties and distributes them to the appropriate parties in a dissolution of marriage action. Generally, any asset and any debt acquired by either party, whether individually or jointly, from the date of their marriage to the date one party files for divorce, are considered to be marital and subject to equitable distribution. Assets and debts acquired prior to the date of marriage or after the date of filing are typically determined to be non-marital and distributed to the party that acquired the asset or incurred the debt. As with any area of family law, there are exceptions to each of these general rules. However, it is fair to assume that Court will likely distribute an equal share of the marital assets and debts to each party upon divorce.
Mediation is an informal confidential non adversarial process whereby a neutral party called a mediator works with the parties (and their counsel, if any) to encourage and facilitate a resolution of a family law dispute. Mediation is a very effective tool, and an inexpensive alternative to litigation, whereby the parties themselves work together to come to their own decisions (as opposed to a judge) to obtain a full settlement of the disputed issues in a family law case. In fact, mediation conferences have proven to be so effective over the years, trial judges routinely require it be conducted as a condition precedent to scheduling a full trial in a pending litigation matter.
Experienced family law lawyers should always strive for a reasonable settlement of a disputed family law matter. In fact, the problem is not usually whether to try and settle a family law case, but rather when to do so. Considerations include but are not limited to, the party’s finances and the cost of litigation, as well as the emotional advantages to the litigants and their children in reaching a resolution. Settlement agreements should be carefully drafted and attempt to resolve all of the issues in dispute. Once achieved, the court, generally will adopt the agreement and enter a judgment incorporating its terms and conditions as its own.
When a party to a family law case fails and/or refuses to comply with the provisions of a judgment or court order, it may be necessary for the other party to seek court intervention to obtain compliance with the directives of the court. Examples include a party’s non-payment of child support, alimony or attorney’s fees, a party’s non-compliance with parental responsibility or time sharing, or a party’s failure to deliver a document or information within a reasonable time. Depending on the type of non-compliance, the party may have the right to ask the court to find the non-compliant party in contempt of court and/or to enter an order enforcing the obligation by all means available to the court. If a party in your dispute has failed to comply with a court order, it is recommended that you seek enforcement as soon as practical following the violation.
Prenuptial agreements or ante nuptial agreements are legal documents entered into by parties prior to a marriage whereby they resolve any issues which could otherwise arise as a result of the marriage should it end in divorce. To be legally binding and enforceable, the agreement should be negotiated well in advance of the actual marriage after full financial disclosure, and contain reasonable provisions. It is also recommended that the agreement be carefully drafted and reviewed by independent counsel of each party’s choice.
In the event a substantial involuntary change in circumstances has occurred following entry of a final judgment in your family law matter, you may be entitled to a modification. While Florida law currently does not permit modifications to those portions of the judgment related to equitable distribution of the marital assets and marital debts, issues involving parental responsibility, time sharing, child support, and alimony can potentially be modified.
When a parent has been offered a better employment opportunity or needs support from family in another jurisdiction, they may seek permission from the Court to relocate with their minor children. In as much as a relocation request will undoubtedly limit the other parent’s rights to access with the minor children, Florida created Florida Statute Section 61.1003 which outlines the procedures and requirements that must be met in order to obtain the court’s permission to relocate with the minor children. Parental relocations are one of the most difficult family law cases for the parties, the children and the court. The ultimate standard is whether it is in the best interest of the minor children for the court to permit the relocation under the circumstances.
The Florida legislature created a cause of action for an injunction for the protection against domestic violence in Florida Statute Section 741.30. An injunction may be sought by any person defined as “family or household member”), irrespective of whether any other action is pending, who has been the victim of domestic violence as defined therein or has reasonable cause to believe that he or she is in imminent danger of becoming the victim of any act of domestic violence. These cases are very serious, have tremendous consequences, and should be prosecuted and/or defended immediately upon notification thereof.