In Florida divorce is called dissolution of marriage. When the marriage is irretrievably broken and at least one of you resides in Florida for at least 6 months at the time the case is filed, a Florida circuit court (the trial court) has jurisdiction (the power) to dissolve the marriage. Florida Statutes, Chapter 61 governs Florida dissolution of marriage.
In all Florida dissolution of marriages the circuit judge will want to address the legal issues presented in the pleadings. Pleadings are the petition for dissolution of marriage, an answer and possible counterpetition for dissolution of marriage and an answer to it.
The typical issues in a Florida dissolution of marriage case include: Parenting/Timesharing and child support if there are minor children of the marriage, Equitable distribution of the marital assets and marital debt and Alimony (spousal support) and the all important Attorney Fees and Suit Money, which is a sub category of alimony and would include the dreaded and oftentimes overpriced and pompous Forensic Accountant. Really, you have one, guess I need one, too. Let’s suck as much money out of the poor bastard with the big dollar sign on his back until he can hemorrhage no more, then we’ll either withdraw from the undertaking or let them settle. There may be other issues, but these are the usual suspects.
If there are no minor children then the issues usually involve just money. Money makes the world go around. If you are the poor sap with a big hoard of cash, you, my friend, are the target for the other lawyer, who will look at you as nothing more than a huge dollar sign trying to suck as much out of you as possible before the case goes away. Money issues are equitable distribution and alimony. As far as equitable distribution the court must first set aside to each party any nonmarital property. Did you know that an inheritance or gift received during the marriage is nonmarital? If husband received a $5 million inheritance and did not otherwise co-mingle that money with marital funds or change its character so it loses its nonmarital protection, he gets to keep all of it as his nonmarital asset. Once the marital assets are identified – as of the cutoff date, usually the date the petition for dissolution of marriage is filed – they are to be valued – as of any date the court deems fair – and to be distributed equally, unless there is a legal reason for an unequal distribution.
If there are minor children then the court must determine a parenting plan – shared parental responsibility is the norm and usually only isn’t if there is verified proof of parental abuse or a convicted felon as parent – and timesharing. Timesharing used to be called custody in Florida and one parent would be designated as the primary residential parent, the other the secondary residential parent. No more. Too many fights between the parents over the designations. Now the court must decide where the child will be living and how his/her time will be shared between the parents. The Florida statute creates a presumption of shared parental responsibility and for equal timesharing. Chapter 61.13 gives the court and parties factors to be considered in the determination of what is in the best interests of the child, including:
(a) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.
(b) The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.
(c) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.
(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
(e) The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.
(f) The moral fitness of the parents.
(g) The mental and physical health of the parents.
(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.
(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
(j) The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things.
(k) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.
(l) The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child.
(m) Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child.
(n) Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.
(o) The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.
(p) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.
(q) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.
(r) The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.
(s) The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.
(t) Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.