Divorce Laws in Florida
Attorney Howard Iken discusses common issues in Florida Divorce Law
Divorce laws in Florida are contained in a section of the Florida Statutes called Chapter 61. That statute guides most, if not all divorce issues – including parenting time, alimony, child support, division of assets, and entitlement to attorney fees. The Florida statute on divorce is comprehensive but does no contain the sum-total of all information needed to guide a divorce. Our attorneys look to the statutes and then study prior cases for decisions that interpret or clarify statutes.
A Florida divorce court will normally consider all involved issues in a certain order. Attorneys remember the priority of issues by thinking of an acronym known as PEACE. That is a simple way for attorneys to remember the order in which a court should address the existing issues. Read on to learn the basic framework courts use to evaluate a divorce case in Florida:
P – Parenting issues (custody, time-sharing, school, medical, etc)
Parenting issues involve decisions on the children such as: where they will sleep, where they go to school, doctors, religion, transportation. Think of parenting issues as everything a child does on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual bases. When children are involved in a divorce case parenting decisions have priority. That is why we show parenting at the top of the list. Florida now requires any case involving children to end up with a comprehensive document called a parenting plan. The “plan” can be several dozen pages and includes a comprehensive list of provisions to guide a child’s life throughout the year.
E – Equitable Distribution (division of assets and debts)
This is the system we use in Florida for figuring out who gets what – and who owes what. Florida uses a system called equitable distribution as opposed to a community property state. All that means is that we use standard starting points for division and then apply various exceptions to make things “fair”. Of course once we mention the word “fair” we bring in a set of rules and precedents that causes infinite arguments in every divorce, and every court hearing. The property division section of the divorce laws provide starting points and general rules.
A – Alimony
All the different forms of alimony are considered if a divorce case supports an alimony claim. Some different types are permanent periodic, durational, bridge the gap, and rehabilitative alimony. The issue of alimony has been heavily contested in the courts, and battled over by lawmakers in Tallahassee. Nothing is more emotional than the subject of alimony. The statutes and previous cases have a lot of guidance for alimony, but there are so many gray areas the fights will continue for the foreseeable future.
C – Child Support
Child support is next in line because alimony may reduce or increase the amount of income a parent has available. The incomes used to calculate child support are net income plus or minus alimony. There have been many changes in child support law and that trent should continue in the future.
E – Everything else (all remaining issues, including attorney fees)
There are always lots of other issues connected with a Florida divorce case. One really big, contentious issue is entitlement to attorney fees. In a Florida divorce case the judge has jurisdiction over many different issues and the ability to impose an all encompassing solution. The term “everything else” is really deceptive because this category can be bigger than everything else combined.
The steps to a divorce are pretty much the same in every family law court throughout Florida. Most of the common steps are laid out in statute. But each particular jurisdiction and each family law judge institute slight variations. The variations in divorce case procedure are commonly intended to increase efficiency. One common example is the Case Management Conference (CMC). CMCs are used in some jurisdictions to allow the judge to “nudge” the case forward if it is stuck. They take the form of short, 15 minute hearings to allow the judge a look into the case. But CMCs are not used by all family law courts.
Divorce law is initially spelled out in Florida Statute 61. But the various situations encountered in family law court are too numerous for the statutes to cover. That is why we have a system in Florida called common law. That is a system where years of court decisions slowly fill in the gaps unaddressed by the divorce statutes. What that means is that attorneys must research case law before hearings to see what previous decisions have established.
The divorce laws of Florida set out a complex web of rules, exceptions, and precedents. Our attorneys fight for clients every day of the year and have built up an extensive knowledge on the various aspects of Florida divorce. We welcome everyone to call or fill out the web form to request a free consultation.
Strategy session with Jennifer Schulte
and Alberto Ayo