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Dissolution of Marriage

In Florida, marriages which are irretrievably broken are ended through the process of dissolution. Dissolution is the legal term in Florida for a divorce. There are no “legal separations” under prevailing Florida law. However, there are a number of different methods to obtain a dissolution. For example, if the parties are able to agree upon how they will divide their assets and liabilities, and there are no minor children involved, an abbreviated procedure often called an uncontested dissolution may be an option. When there are minor children involved, the parties must also come to an agreement as to a parenting plan, including a timesharing schedule between the parties and minor children. The terms “timesharing” and “parenting plan” are now used by the courts in place of former terminology such as “custody”, “primary physical residence” and “visitation”.

Although an uncontested dissolution is still a possibility when parties have minor children between them, the case most likely will require the parties to consider and resolve additional matters beyond the division of property and liabilities between them so as to ensure that the best interests of the minor children are protected. When parties are unable to agree upon how they will divide their assets, liabilities and/or share parental responsibilities concerning their minor children, a contested dissolution is necessary.

In either an uncontested or a contested dissolution, consulting with an experienced Family Law attorney is essential to ensure the protection of your rights under the law, and when minor children are involved, to ensure your parental rights as well as the best interest of the minor children are protected.

The typical aspects of a dissolution are:

The Dissolution Petition

Each dissolution case begins with one party filing a petition for dissolution. The petition establishes what issues need to be resolved and how the person wants them resolved. The petition is filed with the clerk of court and served upon the other party to initiate the case.

The Answer/Counter-Petition

Within twenty days of being served with a petition for dissolution a person must file and serve their answer to the petition. The answer either admits or denies the allegation in the petition. A counter-petition may be filed along with the answer to allow the opportunity to assert the issues in the case and the preferred resolution as that party sees them. Twenty days from serving that counter-petition, an answer will be due by the initial petitioner and the formal pleadings will be done.

Issues that will be considered in most every dissolution:

Courts sometimes use the acronym P.E.A.C.E. in working through a dissolution case:

Mandatory Discovery and the Discovery Process

Unique to what is commonly referred to as “discovery” in dissolution cases is the concept of mandatory, automatic disclosure which is in substance governed by the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure. In short, the purpose of completing discovery and exchanging the mandatory disclosure materials is to provide both sides with a full, accurate and complete picture of the financial standing of the other, so that an accurate determination may be made of the financial aspects at issue in the case. Mandatory disclosure includes preparing and submitting a financial affidavit, bank statements, paystubs, tax returns, and materials of like kind or character as are specified under Florida law. In addition to the mandatory disclosure requirements of the law, other formal requests to produce documents or additional discovery materials such as interrogatories may be served upon a party to obtain further information regarding their financial standing and so as to enable the other party to make an educated, informed decision with advice of counsel regarding the matters in controversy.

Mediation

Mediation provides the parties with an opportunity to meet and attempt to agree upon a fair resolution of their case prior to spending the time, money and effort associated with having to proceed with a trial before the court. Typically, mediation occurs once the discovery process has been completed and the parties are aware of the extent of the assets, liabilities and/or other matters in controversy and at issue in their case; however, mediation can also take place in the early stages of any case. At mediation, the parties together with their attorneys work with a mediator to determine, discuss and attempt to resolve all matters at issue in their case and work toward reaching a global resolution of everything in controversy. If an agreement can be reached, a settlement agreement is usually prepared at or shortly after the completion of mediation. If some, but not all, of the issues are resolved at the mediation conference, a partial settlement agreement may be prepared at the conclusion of or shortly following the completion of mediation. Any issues that are not resolved at mediation are usually set for trial where the judge assigned to the case will ultimately determine the outcome.

Trial

Family Law cases are tried in the circuit court and the trial is held before a judge. There is no jury. The judge operates as both the referee and as the fact finder. The party initiating the proceedings is commonly referred to as the petitioner and the other party as the respondent. At trial, the petitioner presents their evidence first and the respondent is then given the opportunity for cross-examination. At the conclusion of the petitioner’s case, in the event of a counter-petition, the respondent is then afforded an equal opportunity to present their evidence, with the petitioner having the opportunity for cross-examination. At the conclusion of the presentation of all evidence, the court may allow the parties, through counsel if represented, to make a closing argument to the court at which time each party’s position as to the evidence presented and applicable law if presented to the court. In some cases, in lieu of oral closing arguments, the court may request that there be written closing arguments and/or a proposed final judgment submitted to the court on behalf of the respective parties, but regardless of the form closing arguments take, the court ultimately will consider the evidence presented at trial and enter a final judgment.

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