Selected as one of the "10 Best" Family Law Attorneys in Florida by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys and received their Client Satisfaction Award in 2015. She has litigated domestic relations cases, counseled family law clients and negotiated their family law agreements for more than 30 years in the Central Florida area.
The Ten Steps to the Court House in a Family Law Case
By Diane B. McWhirter
First Step: Filing
Your initial paperwork consists of a financial affidavit, an affidavit regarding children, any agreements executed by the parties, and the petitions for relief. The Clerk’s filing fee must be paid to access the court system.
Second Step: Service
In family law court the process server serves contested paperwork on the Defendant (the other side), who has 20 days to file a response with the court. If no service is affected, then the Plaintiff must initiate a search by contacting hospitals, phone directories, relatives and friends of the missing Defendant. After the completion of the search, a newspaper ad prepared by an attorney, could be run as substitute service.
Third Step: Waiting 21 days
A case with an agreement might be processed in 22 days, if the court and parties calendars allow it. The courts try to conclude cases within one year from the date of filing.
Fourth Step: Mandatory Disclosure
The parties must disclose their assets and liabilities and keep the other party continually apprised of any changes in their finances. The financial affidavit needs to be correct and reflect the party’s true income and liabilities so that the party’s needs and ability to pay alimony or other support can be appraised.
Fifth Step: The parties file paperwork outlining their cases and defenses
After service the defendant has 20 days to reply with an answer, or a default could be entered by the court or Clerk. If a counterclaim or counter petition or affirmative defenses are filed with the answer, then another 20 days might pass before all of the paperwork is complete.
Sixth Step: Mediation
After complete discovery the parties are required to enter family law mediation in certain counties. If the mediation is successful, then the parties proceed as an uncontested matter.
Seventh Step: Temporary Hearings
If one side fears the other might damage or deplete assets then an injunction preventing same can be sought from the court and the notice requirements for such a hearing vary. Other types of emergency relief might include petitions to freeze marital funds, and emergency petitions for financial relief or aid, including temporary alimony and child support.
Eighth Step: Review of Debt and Asset Division
If the parties have unpaid debt, they might incur lawsuits, foreclosure actions, and general bad credit. Debt and Asset division are considered together by the court in equitable distribution. Sometimes the court will divide the assets and debts in an unequal manner, depending on the parties’ needs and circumstances. In the event of a creditor suit, retirement funds are protected from creditors. Although divorce is a life emergency, the parties should seek financial advice and consider carefully before withdrawing funds from retirement accounts.
Ninth Step: Support Needs Analysis
Using the financial affidavits and other financial earning documents and bills, the court will analyze the parties’ financial needs for alimony and support on request.
Tenth Step: Prepare for Final Hearing
Required items for the day of court include a Florida Driver’s license issued more than 6 months before the date of filing. You should plan to purchase certified copies of the Final Judgment for later legal purposes.
After the Hearing: The Court's Final Judgment
The Court's Final Judgment will contain the court's ruling, and might serve as a quit claim deed to your home, might change your legal name, might transfer assets or debts, or specify rights and obligations concerning your children. Buy several certified copies to present to the County Recording Office, the automobile agency, the schools, the financial institutions and other offices.