What to Do Before You File for Divorce in Florida

We all know that divorce is a complicated, emotional and stressful process. Even the most amicable of divorces can still be a difficult matter. Before you file for a divorce in the state of Florida, there are a few things you are going to need to do to get prepared. These steps will help lessen the trauma for all parties involved, and ensure that everyone is treated fairly.

Stabilization Courses

The State of Florida requires all parents with children to undergo special stabilization courses. These courses are designed to help the parents find a way to make the process less traumatic for the children involved.

Some of these courses are available online, but in most cases, you will need to attend an actual class before you can proceed. These classes will also help parents put their children’s needs first, and help both parties decide what type of custody arrangements are going to be best for everyone involved.

Your attorney can assist you in setting up attendance in these courses and provide you with guidance on how to arrange custody that suits the best interests of the children involved.

Equitable Distribution

The State of Florida practices what is called equitable distribution of property in divorce cases. Unlike other states that simply divide assets down the middle, the state will determine what is fair and balanced when it comes to the division of property.

It is vital to have an attorney who is well qualified to assist you in this process. While it would be ideal if all parties are treated fairly, in many divorce cases, this just doesn’t happen. It is helpful to make a list of all of your current assets, both joint and single, to determine just what is going to be on the table. A divorce arbitrator can be helpful in this situation, particularly if it is an amicable divorce. However, if it is a contested divorce, or both parties cannot come to an agreement on equitable property distribution, this is a where an attorney is a vital part of the process.

Financial Preparedness

Divorce can easily cause havoc in both party’s financial lives. In order to minimize the impact, it is best to begin splitting up your finances as soon as you can in the process. Determine who owns what in your shared accounts and withdraw the agreed upon amount and place it in new accounts that the other party cannot access. We all like to think that we know our partners and that they wouldn’t be tempted to drain a joint account, but it happens all too often.

Shared utility bills will also need to be split. If you have your partner as a beneficiary on a life policy, now is also a good time to start the process to change the beneficiaries.

This is not an easy process, and it can be emotional. However, if both parties can realize it is for the greater good in the end, typically, it can be easier to get your financial affairs in order.

Finding the Right Divorce Attorney

You will need to have proper representation during your divorce proceedings. Many people make the mistake of thinking that in a relationship where there are no children that they don’t need an attorney, but end up finding out too late they should have had representation.

Look for a divorce attorney with a proven track record in handling many different types of family law cases. If you are a man, look for an attorney that specializes in the rights of the man during the divorce process. All too often, these cases are skewed in favor of the woman, particularly when custody battles are raging. You will need to find someone who can defend you and what is best for your children.

Irretrievably Broken

Florida law states that divorces will only be granted if the marriage is proven to be “irretrievably” broken or if one of the parties is diagnosed as mentally incapacitated. Unlike a “no-fault” state where reasons for the divorce do not have to be given, you will need to prove to the court that your marriage is over and there is no hope for reconciliation.

Your attorney will be able to present your case to the State to show that the marriage cannot be repaired and begin the process of equitable distribution, while making sure your best interests are being served.

About the author:
James M. Burns of the Law Office of James M. Burns has served clients in Florida and Alabama for nearly two decades and brings a wealth of experience and legal savvy to your side when you need a staunch supporter and smart legal representation.

Representing yourself in Court? Good luck with that.

representing yourself in family courtI have had potential clients ask me, often with a cautious hope, whether their particular type of legal matter, is something that they can handle for themselves.  It is a question one would never ask a physician, an electrician, or an auto mechanic, but one that I believe, is often asked of attorneys.  I tell those individuals that the answer to that question depends on how comfortable they are with understanding and researching the law, presenting evidence, cross-examining witnesses, rebutting legal arguments, and making a persuasive argument to the judge.  Really, though, it is how quickly a person can gain and condense the specialized education and 26 years of experience that I have, into the time that person has to prepare for their hearing.

Recently, I appeared in Hillsborough County Court, in Tampa, for a Small Claims Pretrial Conference before Judge Gabbard.  My client was being sued over a nominal credit card debt, the type of case that over the past five years, has been prosecuted with greater and greater frequency.  Like many different types of court divisions, such as traffic, criminal or even some family divisions, the court calendar was a cattle call.  Of that the cases on that calendar, two individuals had decided to represent themselves.  The first was being sued, on behalf of a debt to a person who had owned the company he had recently purchased.  As the plaintiff was not suing the company, only the former owner, this was a debt for which the individual standing in Court was not responsible, and legally, could never be held responsible.  The plaintiff’s attorney was not about to point this out to the defendant, though he did try to change the subject whenever the judge tried to imply to the defendant—judges cannot give legal advice to either party, that the plaintiff had sued the wrong person.  Without any help or advice from an attorney, the defendant proceeded into a side room of the courtroom, and began discussing the terms of a repayment plan for settling a debt that he did not owe.   The second, unrepresented litigant, was a young woman suing someone on a debt.  In explaining to the judge why she had not gotten service on the defendant, she expressed frustration that the Sheriff’s process server did not do more to serve the defendant, when she was convinced the address she had provided was correct.  Again the judge could not advise this plaintiff, all she could do was reschedule the case for another pretrial conference, and tell the plaintiff to make sure she obtained service on the defendant.

In less than five minutes after their hearings, I told each of these strangers what they needed to know before and for the next time each comes to Court—perhaps to the irritation of the collection agency attorneys gathered in the Court room.  The two pro se litigants were fortunate that I did so, but the point is, neither of these individuals had any business going into Court without an attorney, or without even having consulted an attorney.

While these situations played out in the civil division of the Hillsborough County Court, I have encountered similar situations in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, especially in the context of Family Law cases.  I think in every domestic violence calendar (the hearings in which a Family Law Division Judge rules on entering or dismissing injunctions for the protection against domestic violence (commonly known as, “restraining orders”), that I have attended, at least one unrepresented respondent agreed to an injunction being entered against him.  Similarly, at least one unrepresented petitioner agreed to dismiss her attempt to get an injunction.  In those situations, no testimony is taken, the judge moves onto the next case, and I am not sure the individual parties know exactly what just happened.  And for those injunction cases in which one party has an attorney and the other does not?  There is clearly a mismatch, as the one without the attorney is required to follow the same procedural and evidentiary rules that govern the actual attorney.  As long as the lawyer is on his or her game, the pro se litigant will be kept from testifying to what someone else told him or her (hearsay) and kept from showing the judge what some law enforcement agency wrote about the incident (more hearsay).  From a professional standpoint, this makes for a very effective and satisfying presentation on the part of the attorney, and a very ineffective and even frustrating presentation on the part of the person representing himself or herself.  Why then, do pro se litigants go into that dark night so easily and willingly?

I am sure finances have much to do with it.  But given the number of attorneys out there, it is hard to believe a party cannot find an attorney whose fee requirements, or payment plan, can fit their budget.  And even if one cannot afford to have an attorney there beside them, at least they should consult with one beforehand, to get a better idea of their rights and how to handle the hearing.  I am willing to bet that almost every private and practicing attorney in a county, state or country, will sit down with a potential client, upon request, and advise them of their rights in the area of the attorney’s expertise.  Depending on the attorney and the attorney’s experience, it might cost a consultation fee, but the knowledge the person receives, will be well worth the value—both when walking in the courtroom, and when walking out.

Mark Hanks

Your Family Lawyer

Attorney Hanks, P.A.

www.attorneyhanks.com

Copyright 2014