Couples can become legally divorced in many ways. If we were to simply the divorce options into very broad categories, there would only be two. It is important not to see any specific option as good or bad because they each have unique pros and cons based on the couple’s circumstances, goals and needs.
There Are Really Only Two Options!
Yes, that’s right! To get divorced, there are really only two primary options. There are of course variations of each, but at a high level there are really only two. They are:
Settlement Options Are Voluntary
It is important to understand that the settlement option is completely voluntary (by both parties). This means that if your spouse doesn’t want to settle the case voluntarily, you have no option except the court method. You cannot force your spouse into settlement options without their consent.
We’ll explain each option in more detail below.
Option 1: 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.
Read more about the family law litigation process.
Option 2: Settlement
The second divorce option is by settlement. Settlement means that the two spouses voluntarily agree to the terms of their divorce. A settlement can take many forms and it can be done at ANY time in the divorce process prior to a judge’s final ruling of divorce. Again, the key thing to remember about settlement options is that they are entirely voluntary – you cannot force your spouse to agree or engage in any of these options if they don’t want to.
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.
Additionally, mediation can be done prior to filing anything in court and/or can be done as one of the steps in a traditional court proceeding. In fact, most courts require couples attend a mediation as part of the court option. While attending may be required as part of the court option, reaching settlement is completely voluntary.
Ideally we recommended that parties attend with attorneys because once an agreement is signed, it is a binding contract. The mediator, even if they are an attorney, cannot offer legal advice to the participants. Furthermore, divorce mediation can be more productive with the assistance of an experienced family law attorney.
If you are not going to go with an attorney, having a thorough prep and strategy session with an attorney before mediation can help prepare you for a productive mediation!
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 »
Flat Fee Uncontested Divorce
This is an option that allows parties who have reached full agreement on all terms to divorce with the assistance of an attorney. This gives them the ability to completely control the cost. It is only appropriate when the parties are fully cooperative and have, or will have, full agreement. Read more about flat fee uncontested 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.
Simplified Dissolution Of Marriage
Simplified divorce is a special type of Florida divorce for people with no children that have agreed on equitable distribution. The couple files a joint pleading and goes to a final hearing in front of a judge to finalize the process. It is designed so that you don’t need an attorney to get through the process!
A simplified divorce is reasonably easy, inexpensive and fast! You can learn more about simplified divorce here.
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Next Step: Learn about the actual common divorce factors to consider.
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