Divorce Litigation in Florida: Pros & Cons, Costs, Alternatives

Divorce litigation is the legal process in which a divorcing couple goes to court to resolve their disputes in a formal judicial proceeding. Divorce litigation involves each spouse hiring an attorney to represent their interests, present evidence, and argue their case before a family court judge, who renders final decisions on issues like child custody (time-sharing), child support, the division of marital assets, and spousal support.

The advantages of a litigated divorce include a formal and structured legal process, judicial authority, legal protection, and enforceable outcomes. The disadvantages of divorce litigation include high costs, a lengthy trial process, limited control of outcomes, a more adversarial approach, and a lack of confidentiality.

The costs associated with divorce litigation are relatively higher than alternative solutions because of factors including attorneys fees, court fees, expert witnesses and consultant fees, and the longer time frame required to try a divorce case in court. Alternatives available for consideration in Florida include collaborative divorce, mediation, arbitration, and uncontested divorce.

Here are the essentials of divorce litigation in Florida: its advantages, disadvantages, and alternatives.

What is Litigation?

Litigation is the process of taking legal action through the courts to resolve disputes between parties. Litigation involves steps including filing a complaint, conducting discovery, presenting evidence, and participating in court hearings or trials.

traditional method for resolving complex issues in a divorce when a married couple cannot reach a compromise. This process becomes necessary when there are significant disagreements requiring legal intervention.

The couple must go to court to pursue a contested divorce in this scenario. They must ask a judge to decide on key issues such as child custody, alimony, or property division, which they cannot resolve themselves.

Florida is recognized as a “no-fault” divorce State, meaning there is no need to prove specific reasons for wanting a divorce. The filing party simply needs to demonstrate that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

According to Section 61.052(1) of Florida Statutes, the court can grant a divorce if it finds that the marriage is irretrievably broken as long as at least one spouse has been a resident of Florida.

Florida law also covers various aspects of divorce, which may be discussed during the trial.

  • Equitable Distribution: The fair division of marital and non-marital property, meaning assets and debts acquired before and during the marriage or by gift/inheritance.
  • Alimony: Financial support awarded to one spouse.
  • Child Support: Financial support for the care and maintenance of children.
  • Parenting Plan Issues: Creating proper parenting plans for child custody, visitation, and decision-making responsibilities.
  • Other Issues: These include but are not limited to tax returns, insurance concerns, and the allocation of debts.

Once the judge signs the final judgment per the Florida Family Law Rules of Court, the case is closed, and both parties are expected to follow through on the court’s decision.

What is a Divorce Attorney’s Role in Divorce Litigation?

During Florida divorce litigation, the divorce attorney’s primary job is to represent the client throughout the process. This includes providing legal advice and guidance on questions related to family law and Florida divorce proceedings.

Each party in a contested divorce typically hires their own Florida divorce lawyer. The divorce attorney is responsible for negotiating with the opposing counsel to reach a satisfactory settlement on behalf of their clients.

Attorneys advocate for their clients on crucial matters such as child custody and spousal support. Their role is pivotal in ensuring their client’s interests are well-represented in Florida courts.

A key function of a divorce lawyer in Florida is to uncover any assets the spouse may be attempting to hide and ensure equitable distribution of property.

They also evaluate settlement offers, aiming to secure the best possible outcome for their client.

Lastly, attorneys play a crucial role in resolving additional disputes that may arise during the litigation process. This includes addressing parenting plan changes, support payment adjustments and other unforeseen issues.

What are the Advantages of Divorce Litigation?

These are the advantages of a litigated divorce and hiring a Florida divorce lawyer to help parties navigate it.

  • Formal legal process
  • Court involvement
  • Attorney to ensure your interests are protected

Formal Legal Process

A formal legal process is essential for couples seeking a litigated divorce, especially in contested divorce cases. It ensures that all aspects of the process, governed by Florida law, are handled fairly and systematically.

From the moment the divorce case is filed in a Florida court to the final hearing, clients can rest assured that an experienced Florida divorce lawyer will guide them through each phase of the proceedings.

This organized approach ensures that the interests of both parties are represented and that the process adheres to family law statutes.

Proper settlement negotiations and hearings are conducted to determine the fairest approach to the divorce. This includes discussions on the parenting plan, division of assets, and alimony.

It is also possible to file a counter-petition after the final judgment, mainly if there is a substantial change in circumstances within several weeks of the trial.

Legal Discovery Process

The discovery process in a contested divorce allows the parties’ lawyers to collect all the necessary facts and documents they can use to defend their clients. These will affect the final judgment in court.

The discovery process is a critical litigation component and relies on the following tools during the formal process.

  • Mandatory Disclosure: This is a requirement for both parties to share financial and other relevant documents.
  • Interrogatories: These are written questions the other party must answer under oath.
  • Depositions: This is an in-person testimony taken under oath to gather information before the trial.
  • Subpoenas: These are legal documents ordering someone to attend court or produce relevant documents.
  • Admissions: These are requests for a party to admit or deny facts to streamline the process.

Court Involvement

Court involvement is a defining aspect of a litigated divorce, where unresolved issues between spouses are settled through the legal system. This is particularly pertinent in Florida divorces, where court intervention often becomes necessary.

The attorney plays a crucial role, representing clients in court to ensure their best interests are protected and fought for.

This includes everything from property division to child custody arrangements, ensuring the parties receive the most equitable outcome from Florida divorces.

A final hearing may be required when a mutual agreement is not reached. This involves a trial before a judge, without a jury, where witnesses can be called and records introduced to support each party’s case.

The parties are officially divorced once the judge signs the final judgment for the dissolution of the marriage. This final judgment legally ends the marriage, allowing both parties to move forward separately.

Attorney to Ensure Your Interests are Protected

A proficient divorce lawyer ensures the client’s interests are vigorously defended throughout their Florida divorce. Particularly in a contested divorce, having a lawyer committed to a party’s best interests is crucial.

Understanding that an effective attorney does not need to be uncooperative with the opposing side is vital.

Attorneys who are overly contentious often lead to increased legal costs and prolonged cases. Cooperation, when appropriate, can be beneficial.

An effective attorney zealously advocates for their client’s interests while cooperating with reasonable requests from the opposing counsel. This approach can often lead to more amicable resolutions and is beneficial in the long run.

Active engagement in settlement negotiations is a vital attribute of a good lawyer. This means defending your interests in court and working towards a mutually agreeable resolution before reaching the judge’s final decision.

What Are the Disadvantages of Divorce Litigation?

The disadvantages of divorce litigation are the high costs, lengthy trial process, limited control of outcome, adversarial in nature, lack of confidentiality.

The disadvantages of divorce litigation are listed below.

  • High cost
  • Lengthy trial process
  • Limited control of outcome
  • Adversarial approach
  • Lack of Confidentiality

High Cost

A litigated divorce case costs more than alternatives like mediation, arbitration, or collaboration. This is because the formal legal procedure of a litigated divorce, especially a contested divorce, involves more complex procedures and often requires more time and resources.

The factors below contribute to the high price of a litigated divorce in Florida.

  • Attorney’s Fees
  • Court Costs
  • Gathering Evidence and Preparation
  • Child Support and Alimony
  • Marital Settlement Agreement
  • Changing to the former name

Lengthy Process

The litigation process in a Florida divorce is often more time-consuming than alternatives such as mediation, collaboration, or arbitration. This is due to the nature of the formal legal proceedings, which involve multiple steps and can be affected by the complexities of the particular case.

The usual court schedule in a litigated divorce process typically follows this pattern.

  • Filing of the Petition: It starts with filing for divorce, after which the other party has twenty days to respond.
  • Discovery Phase: This phase often takes several months, gathering and exchanging information between parties.
  • Motions and Hearings: These interim steps can add time depending on the specifics.
  • Mediation or Settlement Negotiations: While aimed at resolving issues, this stage can also be lengthy if parties struggle to reach an agreement.
  • Preparation for Trial: If the case goes to trial, preparation time can extend over several months.
  • Trial: The trial itself can last a day to several weeks, depending on the complexity of the issues.
  • Final Judgment: After the final hearing, it can take additional time for the judge to issue the final judgment, often extending the process to at least six months.

Limited Control

Contested divorce (litigation) involves legal proceedings where spouses must consult with their attorneys rather than discussing concerns independently. Attorneys negotiate for their clients, and a judge makes the final decision based on the facts presented. This process often results in dissatisfaction for one or both spouses regarding the separation terms.

Adversarial Approach

Litigation is a more adversarial solution to divorce than options such as mediation or collaborative divorce. In litigation, the involvement of attorneys representing their client’s interests and a judge making the final decisions on contested issues can escalate conflicts and create a win-lose scenario. The focus on presenting and disputing facts in court can lead to greater emotional stress for the divorcing spouses and their children.

Emotional Impact on Concerned Parties

Some divorce cases can be highly stressful for the parties involved, especially if there are issues that can affect physical, mental, and emotional health. Since this process can drag on for years and does not provide much control to the parties involved, it is possible to be disappointed in the results or become impatient with the lengthy processes they must undergo. Dependent children can also become embroiled and embittered by their parents’ separation, especially if there are disagreements regarding child support and custody.

Lack of Confidentiality

Litigation offers less confidentiality than other methods of divorce due to its public nature. During divorce litigation, court proceedings, including hearings and trials, are typically open to the public. This means that any documents filed with the court, such as financial disclosures, custody arrangements, and personal testimonies, become part of the public record. As a result, sensitive information about the parties’ private lives is accessible to anyone.

How Much Does Divorce Litigation Cost in Florida?

Divorce in Florida costs roughly around $7,000 to $30,000, depending on the proceedings and what each spouse is willing to negotiate.

It can cost more, especially for more complex cases that can drag the proceedings and require involvement from more people and offices.

What Fees Are Involved in a Litigated Divorce

The external resources the couple needs to finalize their divorce in Florida make litigated divorce more expensive than uncontested divorces and arbitration.

They would have to consider the legal and court fees, which can increase depending on how long it takes.

Legal Fees

Parties would need to consider the following legal fees for a litigated divorce.

  • Attorney’s Fees: These can range from $150 to $500 per hour, depending on the experience and location of the attorney.
  • Filing Fees: The cost to file for divorce in Florida courts is typically around $400, but this can vary slightly by county.
  • Mediation Costs: It can cost anywhere from $100 to $300 per hour.
  • Expert Witnesses: Their fees range from $200 to $500 per hour.
  • Miscellaneous Costs: This includes copying, mailing, and other administrative tasks.

Court Fees

Parties would need to consider the following court fees for a litigated divorce.

  • Process Service Fee: Ranges from $10 to $50, depending on how the documents are served.
  • Motion Filing Fees: Each motion filed during the process may incur around $50 per motion.
  • Mediation Fees: If court-ordered mediation is required, costs can vary, ranging from $60 to $120 per hour.
  • Parenting Course Fees: In cases involving children, parents might be required to attend a parenting course according to Family Law, which can cost about $20 to $50.
  • Court Reporter Fees: Fees can range from $4 to $7 per page for a certified copy of transcripts.

What Factors Impact the Cost of a Litigated Divorce?

Several factors can significantly affect the cost of a litigated divorce. The most common include the case’s complexity, the level of conflict between the parties, and the amount of assets and debts to be divided.

Other factors impacting the cost are the need for expert witnesses, such as financial analysts or child psychologists, and the case duration. More prolonged cases, especially those that go to trial, accumulate higher legal fees and other associated expenses.

How Long Does a Litigated Divorce Take in Florida?

Divorce in Florida can take a few months to a few years, depending on the case’s complexity. It can also depend on how each spouse is willing to cooperate and the requirements of law offices. The forms and information required, the parties involved, and the availability of courts can further lengthen the process.

How Are Marital Assets Divided During a Litigated Divorce in Florida?

Florida law follows the equitable distribution for the division of marital property. All assets are split fairly but not necessarily equally, depending on the unique circumstances of the two parties. Factors such as economic circumstances, may affect the division of assets.

How is Spousal Support Determined in a Litigated Divorce?

Determining alimony depends on several factors, from the amount to the duration of the alimony. It can be affected by the financial needs of each spouse and their ability to pay the necessary fees after the final marital settlement agreement.

How is Child Custody Determined in a Litigated Divorce?

Child custody is determined based on Florida child custody laws. These laws are based on the child’s best interests, with Florida Family Law prioritizing the child’s well-being and encouraging co-parenting if possible. They decide on a parenting plan and schedule visitations to help the child adjust, providing a stable and nurturing environment with both parents involved in their children’s lives.

How is Child Support Determined in a Litigated Divorce?

Like custody, Florida Family Law still considers what is best for the child when determining child support. Depending on the case’s complexity, it is common for a judge to determine child support payments and other necessary fees based on the parents’ financial capabilities.

What are the Alternatives to a Litigated Divorce in Florida?

The alternatives to divorce litigation in Florida include collaborative divorce, mediation, arbitration and uncontested divorce. The benefits of each alternative are given below.

Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce is a legal process where divorcing spouses and their attorneys commit to resolving disputes amicably without going to court. A collaborative law divorce involves open communication, negotiation, and cooperation to reach a mutually agreeable settlement. The main advantages of a collaborative divorce over a litigated divorce is enhanced control of outcome, more confidentiality, reduced costs, and time savings.

Divorce Mediation

When couples choose divorce mediation in Florida, a neutral third-party mediator helps the divorcing spouses during private mediation sessions and discusses the best way to handle their separation. Mediation is more private and cost-effective than litigation and empowers each spouse to be more active in making decisions for an amicable divorce.

Arbitrated Divorce

Another alternative to litigation in Florida is arbitration. Arbitration for divorce is similar to litigation, with trials to help the couple finalize their separation. However, while litigation involves appearing before a judge in a courtroom, during divorce arbitration in Florida the couple can choose their arbitrator and can be heard in a more comfortable non-courtroom setting.

It is faster, efficient, cost-effective, and customizable to the couple’s needs.

Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce is when both spouses have agreed to dissolve their marriage and divide their property, and they do not require a hearing to finalize the separation.

While they require an arbitrator, uncontested divorces are usually faster, given how each spouse agrees with all the issues.

However, it is still possible for an uncontested case to be tried if there are any changes to either spouse and their decisions.