How to Divorce in Florida
Posted in Florida Family Law on August 9, 2017
Once you’ve made the decision to terminate your marriage, the question is how to divorce in Florida. There are options: (1) do it yourself (2) hire a document preparation company/paralegal or (3) hire our Florida divorce lawyer Steven D. Miller, P.A. Which one is best for you depends on several factors: uncontested or contested case; are there children of the marriage; and money – yes, money. You can spend a lot of money or a little money; you can hire a billable hour lawyer or a flat fee lawyer.
Do it Yourself Divorce Process
The sense of satisfaction from completing something out of your area of expertise can be quite fulfilling. If you are looking for self-gratification, have the inner fortitude to navigate the wholly unknown process called Florida divorce court and are prepared to spend countless hours trying to figure out which forms, then you have the tools to become a divorce “do it your selfer” (“DIY”). You are a pro se’ litigant.
The first thing to consider when contemplating the DIY route is whether your case is contested or uncontested. An uncontested case, with or without children, affords the best opportunity to complete the process on your own. In an uncontested case, the best option to DIY is to buy a package of forms from the clerk of court at your local courthouse. They charge about $30.00 for a complete package of documents w/instructions. Don’t feel like paying? The Florida Supreme Court website provides all necessary forms for free; they won’t be in package form so you will need to know which forms to download: petition for dissolution, notice of social security numbers, answer and waiver, marital settlement agreement; financial affidavits (over or under $50,000.00 of income); notice of hearing; final judgment. Keep in mind that there are 67 counties in Florida and most of them have forms that are unique to that county. So, make sure to check with your local clerk to make sure you have all required documents. If there are children involved, you will need the following forms in addition to the ones previously listed: parenting plan, child support guidelines worksheet; UCCJEA (provides information about the children and where they resided for 5 years prior to filing).
Once you have completed all required forms, take them to your local courthouse, pay the filing fee (about $412.00 throughout Florida) and your case will be entered into the system. Some clerks will review the documents to make sure you have filed all required forms and some will not. The clerks are not authorized to give legal advice of any sort but may provide guidance in which forms are required to be filed. Now what? The case only needs to be set for a final hearing; yes, a final hearing. The final hearing is the court’s opportunity to ask you a few questions about you, your marriage and your agreement. The clerk is not going to set the final hearing for you. Once a judge is assigned to your case (look at the clerk’s online docket), you will need to review his/her procedures for setting the final hearing and proceed accordingly. Some counties have a court division that handles pro se’ cases. Once you notice the case for final hearing, the case manager will review the file to see if you have provided all proper documents necessary to proceed to final hearing. If so, they will accept the notice you provided. If not, they will probably send you a letter letting you know what is missing and instruct to file them. You may need to reset the hearing depending on what needs to be completed.
If you file a case on your own, it is your responsibility to move it along. Neither the clerk or the judge assigned to your case is going to do the work for you. If the case sits idle for too long, the court will send you a notice of dismissal unless you act within a certain amount of time. Here’s the thing: do it yourself is not for everyone, far from it. We have many clients who have tried and failed. It’s not the end of the world but it will cost you time and money.
Contested dissolution? Missing spouse? Spouse out of state? Contemplating a move with your kids? Forget about it. Hire a lawyer.
Document preparation company/paralegal
There are document preparation companies that promise to prepare all required forms for you with information you provide. Sounds good, right? Not so fast. First, a person working for themselves or a document preparation company is not a paralegal. A paralegal works with and under the supervision of a lawyer. If your case is an uncontested dissolution without children or property/debt issues, you have the best chance of having the documents prepared properly by one of those document preparation companies. If your case involves property, children, spousal support or anything that requires a “thought process” (i.e., what to do, why, when, where, how) having anyone other than a Florida divorce lawyer do the work is a large mistake. Why? Because only a lawyer can provide legal advice, period. Second, if you have children and are considering using a document company, do a little due diligence: ask the document company about child support – how it gets calculated, use of the “gross up” method, what if parties agree that there is none – and listen to the answers. If they say anything other than you need to ask a lawyer – run away. You are in dangerous territory.
Contested case? There is no way a document company has the ability to help you – do not waste your money. Document companies are only allowed to fill in the blanks in the same forms you can download for free. Anything more than an uncontested case without property or children requires a trained professional – a Florida divorce lawyer.
Steven D. Miller | Florida Attorney
Legal work should be done by someone with knowledge of the law and how it applies to the facts of your situation. Would you do your own dental work or hire your neighbor who read “So you want to be a dentist?” The question is which lawyer to hire.
A billable hour lawyer charges for every call, email, drive time, waiting around the courthouse time, piece of paper, paper clip – you get the idea. The more time they spend, the more they get paid. Want to go to the office for a meeting? No problem; come on in, relax, have some water, maybe lunch. On the other hand, you can retain a flat fee lawyer – someone that gets the work done for a fixed fee. How do you decide which one is right for you? Look at websites, watch the videos, listen to former clients, talk to the lawyer. Consultation should always be free.
“When it’s time to leave, Call Steve.” 877-348-3354