Contested Versus Uncontested Divorces in Florida
In Florida, spouses can either obtain a contested divorce or an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce means that the spouses have reached an agreement that they both want to divorce and they’ve agreed to all related divorce issues. Related divorce issues include the division of the marital property, alimony, child custody, and child support. In Florida, spouses who want a divorce and have agreed to all the marital issues file a Joint Petition for Divorce.
A contested divorce means that a spouse either contests the grounds for the divorce or one of the related divorce issues. If the divorce is contested, then the spouses usually try to reach an agreement through the mediation or collaborative divorce process. If they still can’t reach an agreement after trying alternative divorce methods, then their divorce issues are tried before a judge who makes the final decisions. In a contested divorce, one spouse requests the divorce and then serves the divorce papers on the other spouse.
There are only two grounds for divorce in Florida. Most divorces are based on the ground that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The second ground is the mental incapacity of one of the spouses. The mental incapacity must have existed for three years prior to the filing of the divorce petition.
The advantages of an uncontested divorce in Indian River County
There are several key advantages to filing an uncontested divorce as opposed to a contested divorce:
- An uncontested divorce is normally must faster. There is only a 20-day waiting period between the filing date and the date the judge can approve the divorce. In most uncontested divorces, spouses receive their divorce decree in 30 days. A contested divorce can take months or even a year depending on whether the spouses reach an agreement or the divorce issues have to be litigated. That’s a long to time to wait to start the next phase of your life.
- An uncontested divorce is much less expensive. Even mediation and the collaborative divorce process cost legal fees and the fees for the mediator or any collaborative divorce professionals. Full-scale litigation usually means paying lawyers an hourly fee.
- Control over the related issues. If you reach your own agreement, then you control the terms of the equitable division of the property, alimony, child custody, and child support. If the divorce is contested, then a judge decides what’s best for you, your spouse, and your children. While judges base their decision on specific Florida laws, different judges can decide your divorce issues differently. Every judge has their own preferences.
- Divorce agreements are better for the children. Divorce is especially hard on children. An agreement provides the certainty they need to move forward after the divorce. Agreements keep children out of the courtroom.
The average cost of an uncontested divorce is about $1,500. The price varies depending on the value of the assets, whether there are children, and other factors.
The uncontested divorce process
The main steps in an uncontested divorce are:
- One spouse hires a divorce attorney to prepare the divorce documents.
- Each spouse reviews the documents
- Once the spouses agree to the divorce and the related issues, the agreement and the divorce request are submitted to the judge
- If the judge sees that all the correct documents have been filed and signed, the judge issues a divorce decree.
Key considerations when an Indian River County divorce is contested
You can’t force your spouse to agree to a divorce. When spouses contest a divorce because they have an honest difference of opinion as to how the property should be divided, who should have custody, and the amount of alimony and child support – those honest differences can often be resolved through negotiation. If a spouse hasn’t emotionally recognized the marriage is over, is angry, or is just plain obstinate – then the divorce can be delayed until a judge decides the issues.
Contested divorces normally cost about $5,000 and take six months to complete. Some fiercely contested divorces and cost much more and can take a year or more until a divorce decree is entered.
The contested divorce process
The main steps in a contested divorce are:
- One spouse hires a divorce lawyer to prepare and file the divorce documents with the court.
- The other spouse is served with the divorce papers.
- The spouse who is served has 21 days to formally respond.
- The court schedules a case management conference (CMC). The date of the CMS is normally 90 days after your spouse submits his/her reply. At the CMC, the judge makes temporary decisions about child custody, financial support, and possibly other orders such as who can stay in the marital home.
- The next stage is the discovery process. Each spouse can conduct discovery of the other spouse such as holding depositions. Depositions are each spouse’s chance to question their spouse about all the contested issues. These questions often focus on the assets, income, and debts of each spouse. They also focus on all the factors that affect the open divorce issues such as the health of each spouse, the ability to care for children, any sacrifices one spouse made to help the other spouse advance his/her career, and many other issues. The lawyers also seek to review any tax returns and any other relevant documents.
- The divorce contest is heard by the judge. The judge listens to the testimony of each spouse and any other relevant witnesses. The judge then decides the contested issues.
The spouses can agree to use the mediation or collaborative divorce process to try to resolve the contested issues. A family law judge may even order that these alternative methods be tried before hearing the divorce disputes.
Ultimately, most contested divorces do settle. Only about 1 in 10 divorce disputes are tried before a family law judge.
A few additional contested divorce issues
There are specific disclosure requirements. For starters, each spouse must complete a financial disclosure form that details their finances. Spouses normally need to provide their tax returns, pay stubs, and bank statements. If a business owns a business, additional disclosures may be required.
In some cases, such as when there are no children and the spouses were only married for a short time, the stipulated divorce process may help resolve the divorce contest. In a stipulated divorce, the moving spouse’s lawyer files a contested divorce. The moving spouse’s lawyer also attaches a settlement proposal to the divorce papers. The proposal then forces the other spouse to decide whether talking about a settlement is better than spending a lot of money on legal fees.
Speak with an experienced Indian River County divorce lawyer today
At Lulich & Attorneys, our Vero Beach and Sebastian divorce lawyers have been serving the Indian River County community for over 35 years. We advise spouses about their divorce rights. We often are able to negotiate agreements with your spouse’s lawyer or resolve contested divorces through mediation or collaborative divorce. We explain when seeking an uncontested protects you and when you need to file or defend a contested divorce. Call us at 772-580-5500 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment.