The length and what is involved in the divorce process depends upon the parties involved. Furthermore, if you or your husband or wife is in the military, there may be issues involved such as military retirement, special residency requirements, requirements of service on an active duty spouse. There are those who can agree on a settlement of their issues and so obtaining a divorce is uncontested. Sometimes the parties can enter into an agreement and file it with the petition for divorce. Or in the alternative, he or she can file the petition with the court and serve the other party with it by process server, who will have 20 days to respond. Furthermore, if the other party is agreeable he or she can accept service of the petition, rather than being served by a process server. Upon filing the petition, the court will order that the parties attend a Case Management Conference which is scheduled for 90 days after the petition is filed. This is a hearing which is essentially a status conference, so that the judge knows what is happening in a case and what needs to be done in it.
Hammering out a divorce agreement!
Even if the parties can come to an agreement, there are still forms which must be completed, some of which are filed with the petition and some are filed prior to the final hearing. There is mandatory disclosure which is required of both parties; however, they can agree to waive it. It is required that each party file a Financial Affidavit and this requirement cannot be waived. If there are children involved, then it is mandatory that a Parenting Plan signed by the parents and a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet be filed. Child support is mandatory because family law looks at it as it is for the child and cannot be waived by the parents.
If a marital settlement agreement is not filed with the petition, then the husband and wife will have to come to an agreement thereafter and file it with the court. If they have attorneys helping them with their divorce, then the attorneys can put the agreement together and the parties will sign it. If an agreement is reached and filed, then the parties can proceed to an uncontested final hearing or the final hearing can occur at the Case Management Conference. At that time, the judge in the case will enter a final judgment which will incorporate all of the terms in the agreement. It will thereafter be enforceable by the court.
If the parties cannot come to an agreement, then in Hillsborough County, mediation is required prior to the case being heard by the judge. Mediation can be either through the county or private mediation. Private mediation may be more costly; however, it can be scheduled earlier in the process, as it usually takes two to three months to schedule a mediation with the county. Another plus to private mediation is that there is no time limit on the length of the mediation, whereas, county mediation is limited to two hours. If the case is uncomplicated, then county mediation may be sufficient; however, for more complicated cases it is worth the additional expense to attend private mediation as the parties have more time to settle and are more likely to settle some or all of the issues . If an agreement is reached, the mediator will prepare the agreement for the parties to sign. It will then be filed with the court and a final uncontested hearing will be scheduled. The final judgment will incorporate the terms of the mediation agreement.
A trial date will be scheduled for resolution of all or the remaining issues if the parties cannot come to an agreement at mediation. This will be a contested divorce action. The parties may also need to attend a temporary relief hearing if there are issues such as child support, child custody and timesharing, alimony and property division, which need immediate resolution. Trial dates may be scheduled for three months or more after mediation. The parties will attend the trial with their attorneys and each will present testimony and evidence to support their position. The judge will take it into consideration and he or she will come to a decision at the trial or more often weeks after the trial date.
It is very costly both financially and emotionally to prepare for and attend trial. Furthermore, neither party may be happy with the court’s decision. Therefore, if at all possible, it is advisable to come to an agreement which requires that the parties compromise and understand that it may not be possible to receive everything requested.
By Lynette Silon-Laguna