Family Law - Frequently Asked Questions

When dealing with family law issues, navigating the legal system can be confusing. Since family law deals with divorce, child custody, spousal and child support, and other issues, it is crucial to have a thorough understanding before making decisions that can greatly impact your life and that of your family. Thus, here are some of the most common FAQ regarding family law.

How long must I be a Florida resident before I can file for divorce?

You must be a Florida resident for at least six months prior to filing for a divorce. You must show proof of residency in the form of a Florida driver’s license that was issued at least 6 months prior to the time you filed for your divorce at the end of your divorce at the time of your Final Hearing in order to satisfy this legal requirement. Alternatively, you can file an Affidavit of Corroborating Witness of a friend or relative who is a Florida resident who then must appear in court at your Final Hearing and testify under oath that he or she knows you personally and swears under penalty of perjury that you’ve been a Florida resident for at least 6 months prior to filing your divorce petition. Normally, the first method listed above is used to satisfy the Florida residency requirement. Also, a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage can be entered 21 days after your divorce petition has been filed.

How do I get the divorce process started?

The filing of a Petition for a Dissolution of Marriage starts the divorce process. This divorce petition outlines what you are requesting regarding child custody, child visitation, child support, alimony, property division, division of debts, and payment of attorney’s fees and costs. If you have been served with a divorce petition by the Sheriff’s Office or a private process server, then you have 20 days (exclusive of the day of service) to file your Answer or Answer and Counterpetition for Dissolution of Marriage with the clerk’s office.

If I want to get a divorce, do I have to prove mistreatment/abuse/other wrongdoing on the part of my spouse?

No. Florida has adopted a no-fault divorce standard. Generally, the court will grant your request for a divorce upon a showing only that the marriage is irretrievably broken. There is no need to claim grounds for the divorce such as adultery, abandonment, alcohol and/or drug abuse, or mistreatment. We will discuss the reasons for your divorce with you at your Initial Office Consultation. However, for purposes of getting a divorce in Florida all one spouse has to do is state in legal terms essentially that he or she doesn’t want to be married to the other spouse anymore.

What if my spouse and I mutually agree that we should get divorced?

If you and your spouse agree to ALL matters regarding parental responsibility, time-sharing, child support, alimony, property division, payment of liabilities, court costs, and attorney fees, then you can get a divorce without mediation, trial, or any court hearings other than a short Final Hearing to finalize the divorce. Most judges in Sarasota and Manatee County will also waive your requirement to attend this Final Hearing if you use Special Interrogatories which essentially allows you to mail in your proposed Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage to be signed and filed by the Court. In theory, Florida law states that you are required to wait 21 days from the date of filing the divorce petition until the final divorce decree can be signed. This process is called an uncontested divorce. However, you will most likely still need an attorney to represent you, prepare your divorce paperwork, and get the divorce finalized. Please be advised that one attorney cannot represent both the Husband and the Wife in a divorce in Florida.

What about child custody and visitation?

Florida law highly promotes and encourages shared parental responsibility for what is commonly referred to as “custody”. In Florida, child custody is called “parental responsibility”. Parents are encouraged to share decision-making regarding their children. Splitting the children’s time with each parent equally is much more common now than it was in the past. When an agreement cannot be reached, the judge will use a “best interests of the child” standard to determine questions regarding parental responsibility and/or “visitation” which is called time-sharing in Florida

What about child support?

Florida has minimum suggested guidelines for determining child support. The amounts can be increased or decreased at the discretion of the court. Support is usually payable until age 18 (or 19 for completion of high school). Please be advised that an equal time-sharing (f/k/a “visitation” agreement does not mean that neither parent will pay the other child support.

When the court orders a certain amount of child support, can that amount be changed?

The amount of child support is modifiable under certain circumstances and through a variety of methods. The simplest method is for the parents to agree to a change, but the court must approve even an agreed-upon change in order to be enforceable.

I can’t afford to support myself until my divorce trial. Can I get assistance now?

If you need help with child support, financial support, and other marital issues while your divorce is pending, then your attorney will schedule a court hearing and ask the Magistrate or Judge to determine what temporary relief you are entitled to receive. This hearing is called a “Motion for Temporary Relief.” Issues such as temporary child custody, temporary child visitation, temporary child support, temporary exclusive use and possession of the marital residence, temporary alimony, and temporary attorney’s fees are addressed at these hearings.

What is a No-Fault Divorce?

When seeking a no-fault divorce, this means you are not legally required to prove who was at fault for the marriage not working. Instead, you can simply cite “irreconcilable differences” as your reason for seeking a divorce.

How Do You Get Full Custody of Children?

Though courts usually prefer shared custody arrangements, they will order full custody be given to one parent if extenuating circumstances make it clear this will be best for the children. Examples of these circumstances include: –Prior history of parental drug or alcohol abuse –Prior history of parental domestic violence or physical abuse –Abandonment by one parent –Mental health of parent –Failing to have financial resources to care for children

What if You Need Spousal Support?

To receive spousal support, you will need to show the court you have a specific need for the financial support. Along with providing your income and expenses, the court will also consider the length of the marriage, your earning capacity, your age and health, and education and employment backgrounds.

Can Support Agreements be Modified?

For a support agreement to be modified, certain factors need to be present. These can include job loss, diagnosis of serious illness, or change in living arrangements. However, to gain a modification, these and other circumstances must be verified and approved by the court.

If you have additional questions about family law, schedule a consultation with a Sarasota FL family lawyer at the Law Offices of Matthew Z. Martell.

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The Law Offices of Matthew Z. Martell located in Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota Florida provides legal services to the following areas: Sarasota, Osprey, Siesta Key, Bird Key, Lido Key, Longboat Key, Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch, Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach, Ellenton, Venice, Manasota Key, Casey Key Nokomis and all areas of Sarasota and Manatee counties. Let us help you today.

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