In Florida, as in other states, the cost of litigating a divorce can be quite high. Many couples hope to avoid any unnecessary expense, especially at a time when they are dividing their financial lives and may be facing a lower standard of living. To add hundreds of dollars per hour of attorney time seems counterproductive, especially if the couple doesn't have a lot of assets or income.
For couples who feel this way and can reach an agreement, Florida offers a simplified dissolution procedure, as explained. below. (For more information on divorce in Florida, see Divorce Basics in Florida; you can find all of our articles on Florida family issues at our Florida Divorce and Family Law page.)
A simplified dissolution is a streamlined version of the regular divorce process. A couple can get a simplified dissolution if they have no minor children, they are not expecting a child, neither spouse is asking for alimony, and they can agree on how to divide their property and debts. As with any divorce in Florida, at least one of the parties must be a Florida resident for at least six months prior to filing for dissolution.
In a simplified dissolution, the parties both agree that the marriage cannot be saved. The parties exchange financial affidavits and agree not to pursue additional discovery concerning each other's finances. Both parties also agree not to seek alimony and waive their right to a trial or appeal. The spouses jointly file a petition, along with their financial affidavits and a settlement agreement that divides up all assets. Both spouses must appear at a final hearing and present the judge with a proposed final order. If all the above requirements are met, the judge will sign the order and the divorce will become final.
While a couple can prepare and file a Petition for Simplified Dissolution on their own, they can also retain lawyers to advise them on how to divide up assets and liabilities and/or to draft the Petition, affidavits and/or settlement agreement, usually for a relatively small fee.
What if you want a simplified dissolution, but you and your spouse are having trouble agreeing on everything? You could try mediating your differences. Practically anyone who has been involved in a lawsuit has been sent to mediation. What many people don't know is that mediation is available even prior to a lawsuit being filed.
A couple planning to divorce can agree to attend mediation, either alone or with attorneys. The couple can work out an agreement that resolves their issues and reduce that agreement to writing. Once this is accomplished, the couple can file for a simplified dissolution, if they meet the above requirements, or one spouse can file a Petition for Dissolution, attaching the agreement reached in mediation, the other spouse can file an Answer, and the couple can quickly proceed to a final hearing.
At times, it isn't possible for parties to reach an agreement and there is no choice but to proceed through the family court. This can be prohibitively expensive for some couples, especially if they have to pay an attorney.
To allow people access to the court and access to a lawyer to the extent they can afford one, lawyers are permitted to enter a limited appearance in an action for divorce. In this situation, the attorney agrees to represent someone in some, but not all, of the issues. This option allows a spouse who is unwilling or unable to pay for full representation throughout a divofce case to obtain legal assistance for only those proceedings that are most difficult. For instance, a husband or wife can obtain the services of an attorney to draft pleadings or respond to discovery requests. The attorney's limited representation is clearly outlined in the Notice of Limited Representation filed by the attorney. The spouse acts on his or her own behalf on all matters not covered by the notice.
Limited representation certainly is less costly, but of course it isn't free. And it will leave the spouse to handle certain matters alone. But if you are willing to shoulder some of the legal burden and get advice or assistance only on the most challenging matters, limited representation can save you money while also protecting your rights.