There are many ways a couple can become legally divorced. We are going to simplify the divorce options into some very broad categories, but keep in mind there are lots of variations for each. It is also important not to see any one option as good or bad because they each have unique pros and cons based on the couple’s circumstances, goals and needs.
Traditional Court Option (litigation)
This is the process that many people think of first when they hear the word divorce. It begins when one of the parties files an initial request for divorce with the clerk of the court. The other spouse will be served with copies of the divorce request and will have 20 days to provide a response. After this, the case can take many different paths, but usually involves exchange of documents and information (discovery) and mediation (required by most Florida courts). Any issues that the couple cannot agree upon will proceed to trial. At trial, a judge will listen to legal arguments for each spouse and make a final ruling that both spouses must abide by.
It is important to understand that just because a couple is in a litigated option, it does not mean it has to be nasty or unpleasant. In fact, most cases in central Florida settle prior to there being an actual final trial.
Offers of Settlement
These are written offers or proposals made between the couple or their attorneys. If an agreement is made, a formal contract will be created and signed by both parties. Offers of settlement can be made at any time in the divorce process. If couples are cooperative, the agreement can made prior to filing anything in court (this is called an uncontested dissolution of marriage).
Mediation is a divorce option where both spouses meet with an independent facilitator who has been trained to mediate divorces. The goal of the mediation is to create an agreement that resolves all issues. Mediation can be conducted with our without attorneys. We usually recommended that both parties have attorneys because once an agreement is signed, it is a binding contract. Furthermore, divorce mediation is often more productive with the assistance of an experienced family law attorney.
Like offers of settlement, mediation can occur before or after anything is filed in court, though it typically is a step in the traditional court process.
Collaborative Divorce Option
This is a fairly new and rapidly growing option where each spouse is represented by a collaboratively trained attorney. Additionally, the spouses jointly hire a financial and mental health professional as independent neutrals to create a professional team. This group of professional will meet with each spouse together and separately as needed. This process provides a round table of experts that assist both spouses in fully understanding all the financial, inter-relational and parenting issues which will face them in the future. The court system is not involved in the collaborative process until the very end when a judge must sign off on a Final Judgment of Divorce. Read more about collaborative divorce »
As a reminder, these descriptions above are very broad. There are many variations of these options and each have their own pros and cons which differ for each couple.
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