Kids Come First. Always remember
this. The focus of every judge is protecting the children and providing
for their support.
is a No-Fault Divorce State.
The only fact that the court needs to hear to grant a divorce is
that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The cause of the divorce,
or who is at fault, is not usually important from a legal standpoint.
There are exceptions, of course, such as misconduct that directly
impacts the children, dissipation of marital assets, and alimony
Parties Get Half. Florida courts
start with the presumption that both parties will walk away with
one half of the marital assets and debts. The key word here is “marital”.
One's inheritance, a spouse's vacation home, a father’s watch or
mother’s engagement ring, may all be non-marital. However, if a
non-marital asset is titled in the names of both spouses it loses
its non-marital status. A pension is marital to the extent it was
contributed to during the marriage.
Kids Have to Live Somewhere.
This is always the most difficult part of any divorce, and often
the most misunderstood. Florida's courts use the term “residential
responsibility” to describe what most people think of as “custody”.
The parent with whom the children live for more than 50% of the
time is the primary residential parent, but the court will order
shared residential responsibility in most cases. Essentially, this
means that regardless of where the children live, both parents must
be involved in all major decisions relating to the children. In
most situations parental contact with the children will fall into
one of three categories:
A standard "primary-secondary residential parent" arrangement where
the children live with one parent during the week and visit with
the other parent on weekends, one night during the week, and half
A "substantial contact" arrangement where the children spend more
than 40% of all nights with the non-residential parent.
A "rotating custody" arrangement, which many refer to as “split
custody". This is where the children spend an equal amount of time
in both homes.
Child support is calculated based upon a statutory formula. There
are several variables that come into play. Support is typically
based upon the net income of the parties, an amount calculated by
deducting taxes and health care expenses from gross wages. Other
expenses are generally not deducted. It is possible to reduce child
support based upon a substantial contact or rotating custody schedule.
to Keep Her (or Him).
Spousal support, or alimony, is one of the most difficult issues
in a divorce because there are no set statutory guidelines for alimony.
The general rule of thumb is that a marriage must be considered
a "long term" marriage before alimony may be awarded. Anything less
than a ten year marriage is considered to be a short term marriage.
Ten to fifteen years is a gray area, where alimony may or may not
be awarded, and after fifteen years there is a presumption the alimony
should be awarded. After examining the length of the marriage the
court will next look at the need for alimony and the ability to
pay. In a marriage where both spouses have comparable incomes it
is highly unlikely that alimony will be awarded. Conversely, if
there is a large disparity in income there is a high likelihood
of alimony being awarded. In a long term marriage alimony is usually
permanent, i.e. until the death or re-marriage of the receiving
party. However, Florida law has recently changed to allow the elimination
of alimony when one's spouse lives with, but does not marry another.
Mediation is a process whereby the parties meet with a neutral third
party and attempt to reach an agreement. All divorce cases in Orange
County are mediated before the court will finalize the divorce.
Mediation, if attempted in good faith, is the best chance that the
parties have to achieve a working solution to their problems. And
it is the only opportunity that those with the most knowledge of
their problems have to forge their own solutions.
in Doubt, Retain an Attorney.
Every divorce is different, just as every marriage is different.
The advice of an experienced divorce attorney is one's best avenue
for avoiding costly mistakes, or overlooking crucial issues, in
this traumatic process our society calls "divorce".