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Learning about the steps involved in the divorce process will empower you to have a smoother divorce. Many divorces end in mediation and then a final hearing to approve the terms of the dissolution of marriage. Mediation offers a more amicable way to negotiate for the things you want from a divorce, rather than a judge deciding your fate. It is also less expensive and less stressful of an experience where you can give more input on what needs, wishes, and concerns you have.

Divorce is best approached when you view negotiations over money, property, and child visitation in a business-like manner. Just as you would in a business transaction, keep focused on the end goal and keep emotions to a minimum to gain what you want from the divorce. Individuals with children should focus on what is best for the child, and frame all requests for child visitation, support, and the parenting agreement around how it benefits the child. Joshua Law, our lead Brandon divorce lawyer is also a children’s rights lawyer. As such, he looks out for your children’s best interests as you look ahead to beginning a new chapter of your life.

This overview provides the steps involved in a Florida divorce and what routes can be taken:

Gathering Information
Records and paperwork are essential to the divorce process. Three years of tax records are required from you and your spouse. If they cannot be located, tax returns can be requested from the IRS. Order these as soon as possible. Several years of bank statements, cancelled checks, and credit card statements are also needed. For assets, copies of mortgage statements, deeds, and records of property ownership are required. Anything of substantial value – car titles, expensive furniture, art, or jewelry – is also important to document through records or appraisals of value. Too much paperwork is never a problem; if you have records that could be useful, keep them in a secure place to present to your divorce lawyer.

Divorce Petition
The first step to formally initiate a divorce is a divorce petition. This informs the courts of who is seeking the divorce first, what claims are being made, and the custody and financial needs the petitioning individual requests. The spouse that is served the petition must respond in 20 days after receiving the petition, or it can be deemed a default divorce.

What Happens When You Are Served A Petition
A petition is hand delivered to the opposing spouse by a sheriff or certified process server. In some instances where a spouse is unable to be located, courts will permit the divorce papers to be served by publishing them in the local newspaper where the spouse is likely to be living. Publication times typically last a month to give the opposing spouse time to respond. Once again, if there is no response, then the petitioning spouse can file for a default divorce.

After the petition is served, other documents can be mailed. This includes answers, motions, evidence copies, and witness lists that the opposing spouse needs to receive as part of the divorce proceedings.

Financial Disclosure
A financial disclosure that declares all assets, debts, income, and expenses must be included in the petition. The formal document to show all these details is called the Certificate of Mandatory Disclosure. A spouse can be held in contempt of court if information is not given or certain parts withheld. In a divorce, all the “cards” must be shown. Forensic accounting experts will help in cases where an opposing spouse is hiding or alleging certain financial data does not exist.

In many cases, a spouse must provide the other spouse with copies of pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns, retirement accounts, and any other relevant information to have a full analysis of what each spouse brings to the divorce.

Through discovery, each spouse learns facts that are needed for their particular side of the divorce case. Typical requests you will come to learn are:

1. Interrogatories
Questions that must be answered for the other party

2. Requests for Production
Additional documents needed for the divorce proceedings

3. Subpoena
This can involve a court order for a witness to appear or direct an outside entity such as a financial institution to produce records needed.

4. Depositions
Requests for a witness’ testimony to be recorded

In a Florida divorce, all parties must go to mediation to reconcile any contested issues in an effort to reach a divorce agreement. A mediator is a neutral individual and cannot force an agreement. The mediator is simply there to keep the negotiations on track and allow each individual to raise his or her concerns. Everything is kept confidential. If an agreement is arrived in one or more mediation meetings, then a brief hearing where a judge reviews the agreement occurs to approve the divorce settlement. If an agreement is not reached by the end of the mediation then the divorce can proceed to a court hearing.

The Final Agreement and Hearing
The final negotiated divorce agreement details all relevant factors of each spouse’s concerns. Property division, child and spousal support, child custody, visitation schedules, and other factors are clearly described so that each party knows what must occur in the months and years ahead. With a mediated agreement, a judge will enter the dissolution of the marriage and upon signing it both parties will be legally single. When mediation does not result in a negotiated settlement, then a judge will hear all the issues and make a final ruling on each factor. This also leads to the dissolution of marriage and a final agreement. In either route, the judge can also grant a name change request.

Family law procedures may be subject to change and every county has different court procedures. Uncontested divorces can be finalized within 60 days for a flat fee.