What to Expect in a Marriage Dissolution Case
Although the divorce rate has dipped slightly in recent years, it is still extremely high, particularly among subsequent marriages. Furthermore, divorce’s moral acceptability rating recently hit an all-time high. In other words, people who would never have considered divorce a few years ago now see this procedure as a good way to terminate an unsatisfying relationship.
The vast majority of Florida marriage dissolutions are no-fault divorces. However, that does not mean that these divorces are fast or easy. That might be true if the marriage only lasted a short while or the parties had a premarital agreement. But in almost all cases, a Clearwater divorce attorney must move a case through a rather complex system.
Initiating a Case
In many cases, filing legal paperwork is only a matter of, well, filing paperwork. But in other cases, this stage of a divorce proceeding can be quite intricate. That’s especially true in absentee spouse situations. Frequently, couples are separated for several months, or even longer, before one of them files for divorce. By that time, one spouse might have completely abandoned the marriage.
Such abandonment could be a problem for legal reasons. Divorce cases cannot move forward until the respondent is either personally served or declared to be in default. That could mean running an advertisement about the divorce in a local paper. These requirements are hyper-technical. If the ad does not say the right things or run for the proper period, the respondent could come back later and invalidate the divorce.
One day soon, service via Facebook and other social media platforms might replace the old service-by-publication option. Most people are much more likely to look at their Twitter feeds than they are to read a classified advertisement in a newspaper. But that day has not quite arrived yet.
The Temporary Hearing
About two weeks after the respondent is served, the judge usually holds a temporary hearing. Do not let the “temporary” label mislead you. Although these orders technically expire when the divorce becomes final, temporary orders usually form the blueprint for the final orders. So, a setback at the temporary hearing is difficult to overcome.
These orders usually include a temporary parenting time plan in addition to financial support provisions, like alimony and child support.
Unless new evidence emerges during the discovery period, these orders usually stay in place. There must be a significant amount of evidence to change the temporary orders. In most cases, the same judge who presided at the temporary hearing presides over finalization. And, no one likes to admit they were wrong.
Typically, divorce discovery includes both financial and nonfinancial matters. Financially, discovery could simply be a matter of exchanging tax returns and pay stubs. But in many cases, financial discovery is much more complicated. That’s especially true if the marriage lasted more than a few years.
Nonfinancial discovery often includes a social services investigation. Most Pinellas County judges order such investigations in contested child custody cases. A social worker evaluates the case, interviews key witnesses, and makes a recommendation. This recommendation is not binding on the court, but it carries a lot of weight.
Most divorces settle out of court, and many settle after mediation. A third-party mediator, who is usually an unaffiliated Clearwater divorce lawyer, listens to opening arguments from both sides. Then, the spouses retire to separate rooms while the mediator conducts shuttle diplomacy. If necessary, the mediator conveys settlement offers and counteroffers back and forth for several hours.
Assuming both parties negotiate in good faith, mediation is usually successful. Good faith negotiation basically means that each side is willing to make some sacrifices in order to settle the case.
If mediation fails, and the parties are unable to resolve the case through independent negotiation, there is usually a trial before a judge.
Reach Out to a Tenacious Lawyer
It helps to know roughly what to expect in a divorce case. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Clearwater, contact Cairns Law, P.A. After-hours visits are available.