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Understanding Divorce in Boca Raton

There is no way around it, divorce is a highly emotional process. When you say “I do” you never expect to find yourself here, reading about divorce. Regardless of what brought you and your relationship to this critical juncture in your life, you must understand the process of divorce to ensure that you are protecting yourself and your legal rights.

As divorce attorneys with over 45 years of combined legal experience, we recognize the struggles you are facing, and we are here to provide the compassionate, personalized representation you need during this challenging time.

At Klein Law Group, our team of divorce attorneys is committed to providing comprehensive legal solutions to residents of Palm Beach and Broward counties, including cities such as Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Palm Beach, and Boynton Beach.

Table of Contents

SECTION ONE

Divorce or Dissolution of Marriage in Florida

DIVORCE LAWYERS SERVING BOCA RATON, PALM BEACH & BROWARD COUNTIES

In Florida, divorce is referred to as “dissolution of marriage.” In this section, we discuss the general process for filing for divorce with a focus on how divorces move through the court system in Florida.  

Filing for Divorce in Florida

Eligibility

To file for divorce in Florida, either you or your spouse must be a resident of Florida for at least six months or a member of the military who lives in Florida but is currently stationed outside of Florida. The filing must be made in the county where the parties last resided together or in the county where one spouse lives while the other spouse has moved out of state. Either spouse may file for divorce. Both spouses don’t need to agree to a divorce. One spouse cannot stop the divorce proceedings begun by the other.

Grounds for Divorce

Unlike some states, Florida is a “no-fault” divorce state. Therefore, the only requirement for divorce is that one of the parties must prove the marriage is “irretrievably broken”—that the marriage cannot be repaired. How does a party prove that? By testifying under oath that the marriage is broken and cannot be fixed.

Types of Divorce

Florida divorces are generally pursued through the courts or mediation. The best route for your divorce will depend on any number of factors, but it will be heavily impacted by the complexity of your divorce (e.g., significant assets, custody of minor children) and your relationship and ability to agree upon settlement terms.

Divorce Through the Court

There are two paths for divorce through the Florida court system: dissolution of marriage and simplified dissolution of marriage.

Dissolution of Marriage or Divorce

The dissolution of marriage process or divorce process is initiated when one of the parties files a petition for dissolution of marriage with the circuit court in the county where the couple last lived together or where either party currently resides. In the petition, a spouse will allege that the marriage is irretrievably broken and set forth the terms the party seeks. The other spouse must file an answer to the petition within 20 days. Depending on the contents of the petition, the responding spouse will address the contents of the petition, but they may also choose to raise additional issues by filing a counterpetition for dissolution of marriage.

Bear in mind that each step of the court process is deadline-driven and failure to meet a deadline may result in the loss of legal rights. To ensure you are meeting your filing obligations, and to avoid any unforeseen issues, consultation with an experienced Boca Raton divorce attorney is highly encouraged. 

After the filing of the petition and answer, the court will require each party to provide financial disclosures, also known as mandatory disclosures, and submit a financial affidavit. If you have children and child support is at issue, the court will require you to complete the child-support guidelines worksheet.

At this point in the process, depending on the county the petition was filed, you and your spouse may be required to participate in mediation. An in-depth discussion on divorce mediation is provided in Section Two.

If you and your spouse can agree on all issues relevant to your divorce, you can present a fully executed marital settlement agreement (MSA) to the court asking the court to incorporate the MSA into the final judgment. A settlement agreement may be advantageous because the parties are more likely to comply with the terms that they created rather than relying on terms dictated by a judge. Settlement terms will include issues like child support, custody, alimony and the division of property.

If the couple cannot agree on the terms of the divorce, a final hearing or trial is required. During this hearing, each spouse is permitted to present evidence and testimony, and a judge will make the final determination on any contested issues.  

Simplified Dissolution of Marriage

Florida allows for a simpler form of divorce under specific circumstances. A simplified dissolution of marriage can be utilized if the following requirements are satisfied:

  • Both parties must agree to use the simplified dissolution process.
  • At least one of the spouses has lived in Florida for the last six months.
  • Both parties agree the marriage is irretrievably broken.
  • There is no request for alimony.
  • The couple has no minor children, dependent children, nor minor adopted children.
  • Neither spouse is pregnant.
  • The couple agrees on the division of assets and debts.

Some couples mistakenly believe that because this process is simpler, it can be completed without the assistance of a skilled divorce lawyer. While true on the surface, there are advantages to seeking representation (or at least a consultation) with a Florida divorce lawyer. Further, the cost to retain an attorney for these types of divorces tends to be lower than if the divorce is contested.

Unlike a regular divorce proceeding, spouses using the simplified process can request financial information from the other party, but disclosure is not required.

Enforcement and Contempt

If your former spouse is not adhering to the court-imposed divorce order, the judge may rely on “contempt” or “enforcement” as a remedy.

For example, if your former spouse refuses to pay child support the judge may find them in contempt of court. To ensure the ex-spouse meets their child support obligations, the judge could find the non-paying party in contempt and the ultimate sanction could be to incarcerate the person until they pay the court-ordered amount.

Enforcement is a second remedy used by the court on individuals who do not comply with court orders. In our child support example, a judge could garnish your ex-spouse’s wages or place liens on property. Depending on the circumstances, a judge could suspend a driver’s license, enter monetary judgments, or even put a warrant out for the former spouse’s arrest.  

The Florida divorce process is nuanced, so if you have any questions about divorce or would like to schedule a free initial consultation with our experienced Boca Raton divorce lawyers, contact us today!

SECTION TWO

Florida Divorce Mediation

Florida divorce mediation is gaining traction as more courts are requiring couples to participate in mediation before resolving their issues at trial. There are many myths surrounding mediation but do not write off this dispute resolution procedure just yet. In some instances, mediation is ill-advised; however, it may be an effective tool to resolve your divorce disputes in a less traumatic and more amicable way. 

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a form of dispute resolution whereby you and your spouse, with the assistance of an impartial, trained third party (the “mediator”), work out agreeable terms for handling your divorce. Your divorce lawyer should be present as well, but the same attorney cannot represent both parties.

Mediation allows you to negotiate terms on the following issues: division of assets, liabilities (debts), spousal support, child custody, and child support.

Mediation is different than court proceedings for divorce. First, a mediator cannot force a party to do anything whereas a judge can compel any number of things like discovery and the production of financial information. Second, in mediation the parties can negotiate and devise the terms for their divorce; in court, the judge makes decisions about the terms.

In Florida, a divorce mediator must be certified, at least 21 years old, and possess “good moral character.” A Florida divorce mediator can also be a Florida attorney, but it is not required. Your divorce attorney cannot serve as your mediator.

Boca Raton Divorce Mediation Process

Every mediator uses their own style and approach, but divorce mediation generally follows the below pattern.

  1. Pre-mediation considerations.

Before beginning mediation, both spouses should interview the potential mediator and consult with their divorce attorneys to make sure they will be comfortable with the mediator. The divorcing couple will also need to decide whether they wish to have an attorney present—this is highly encouraged to ensure you avoid any potential mediation missteps.

  1. Introductions.

Generally, the mediator will first sit down with the couple and introduce him or herself. The mediator will explain the process and what to expect, the mediator’s role (what they will and will not do to assist in the process), and any rules or procedures that must be followed.

Next, the mediator will speak with the couple either together or separately to ascertain the issues to resolve.

  1. Exchange of Information.

Spouses will disclose all relevant information and documents. After, the mediator will summarize the information and identify any additional information the couple should obtain. The most common information shared and requested is financial information.

  1. Issue Exploration.

At this point, the mediator will ask the spouses to identify their wishes as to each matter at issue in order to help the couple clarify their desires and to better understand the requests of their spouse.

  1. Negotiations.

Next, the mediator will work with the spouses to find resolutions with the overall goal to find solutions that address both parties’ needs.

  1. Closing.

Finally, after the parties have resolved their issues to the extent practicable, they will draft a proposed marital settlement agreement. The attorneys usually do the drafting, but if the parties are unrepresented then the mediator will draft the proposed agreement.

If both parties agree, they will sign the agreement and present it to the court for final approval and inclusion in the final judgment. If you were unable to resolve all your issues at mediation, the court will resolve any remaining issues.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Divorce Mediation

Mediation offers multiple advantages:

  • Mediation is generally more cost-effective than proceeding through the court (requiring hearings and a trial).
  • Divorcing spouses have more control over the process and the outcome using mediation (compared to judge-imposed decisions).
  • Mediation is confidential and there is no public record of what takes place during the process.
  • Mediation usually results in quicker resolution.
  • Spouses are more likely to adhere to a settlement agreement that results from mediation because they helped craft the resolutions themselves.
  • Mediation may shield children from the general process of divorce and conflict that arises directly from the proceedings.

The biggest disadvantage of mediation is that mediators do not have the same authority as a judge. They cannot make legal demands on the couple or compel a spouse to produce financial information. So, if you believe your spouse is mispresenting information, you may be at an impasse without judicial intervention.

Divorce mediation is not right for everyone. However, in many instances, couples can greatly benefit. Even in situations where compromise seems impossible, mediation may work to bring spouses to the table to communicate and negotiate. Even complex divorces, high net worth divorces, and couples with children can use mediation.

The Klein Law Group has represented clients in Florida divorce mediations facing all types of issues. If you have questions about the mediation process or wonder if mediation may be right for you, contact us for a free consultation.

SECTION THREE

Taxes, Custody, Support and Other Considerations for a Boca Raton Divorce

The topics addressed in this section are the most complicated parts of a Florida divorce. When it comes to resolving the issues of dividing property, working out an agreeable custody arrangement, or settling on reasonable alimony payments, you need the counsel of an experienced attorney to explain your options and the long-term consequences.

Division of Assets and Debts

Dividing marital property has long-lasting implications, and without proper representation, you risk missing out on the benefits you deserve. Before getting too deep into this topic, it is helpful to explain a few key concepts and terms.

Assets and Debts

Assets may include:

  • Houses (real property) and commercial real estate holdings
  • Automobiles, boats and other vehicles
  • Retirement benefits like 401k and pension plans
  • Any interests in businesses
  • Cash, stocks, bonds
  • Bank accounts and joint bank accounts
  • Personal property (jewelry, artwork, collectible items)

Debts may include:

  • Mortgages
  • Credit card accounts
  • Car payments
  • Bank loans
  • Other investments

Marital and Nonmarital

Marital property includes assets or debts acquired by the couple since their marriage that are owned by both parties, whereas nonmarital property refers to assets or debts accrued by one spouse before the marriage.

Marital assets are subject to distribution while nonmarital assets are returned to the spouse who owned the property before marriage.

How Is Property Divided?

Florida requires “equitable distribution” of marital property and begins with the presumption that all marital property should be divided equally; however, the court makes the ultimate determination of what is fair. The court makes this decision before determining alimony.

The court considers a number of factors:

  • Contributions of each spouse to the marriage
  • Length of the marriage
  • Economic circumstances of the individual spouse

The divorcing couple may submit a settlement agreement on this issue to the court. If the court concludes the terms are reasonable, it will approve the agreement; otherwise, the court will divide the property at trial.

Alimony

Generally, alimony payments are paid from one spouse to another for a set period after a divorce, particularly when there is a significant financial gap between the parties. The court decides alimony after the equitable distribution of assets and debts.

Either spouse may be entitled to alimony if the requesting spouse can demonstrate a need for alimony and show that the other spouse can pay. Once the requesting part meets this showing, the court will examine several relevant factors to determine the amount of the award.

Types of Alimony

There are four main types of alimony.

  1. Bridge-the-gap alimony is awarded to assist a spouse during the transition from married to single. Its purpose is to meet short-term needs.
  2. Rehabilitative alimony is awarded to aid a spouse in establishing the capacity to support themselves by redeveloping earlier skills or credentials, or through education, training or work experience needed to gain employment.
  3. Durational alimony provides support for a spouse for a set amount of time.
  4. Permanent alimony is awarded to allow a spouse to maintain the standard of living they experienced while they were married when they are unable to financially meet these needs on their own.

Factors Considered by The Court

There are multiple factors the court may consider when determining the type and amount of alimony. Besides those listed here, the court may consider any other factors to ensure equity and justice.

  • Length of the marriage
  • Age of spouses
  • Physical and mental health of spouses
  • Parties’ prior standard of living
  • Spouses’ income-producing capacity and financial resources
  • Spouses’ homemaking and child-rearing services, education, and career-building opportunities

Parenting Considerations

Child custody and child support issues are incredibly challenging and stressful for divorcing parents—nothing is more important. Please know that the health, happiness, and safety of your children is a top priority for us as well, and we will always fight for you and your children.

Parenting Plan/Custody

Child custody and visitation arrangements (called “timesharing” in Florida) are often one of the most difficult decisions facing divorcing couples.

In Florida, custody decisions are based on the best interest of the child, with a preference for shared custody. In the majority of cases, both parents would like visitation and custody; however, the court will determine who is best equipped to have primary custody.

A timesharing agreement may be affected by:

  • Financial stability
  • Past or pending criminal charges
  • Plans to move large distances
  • History of failing to comply with previous legal arrangements
  • Disability

There are significant legal consequences for disobeying the terms of a custody agreement, including loss of parental rights. Also, keep in mind that visitation agreements may be changed after a divorce.

Child Support

Child support refers to the non-custodial parent’s obligation to provide financial support for a child following a divorce. Child support payments are intended to ensure that children are provided for in a financial sense, regardless of any lifestyle changes they may face after a divorce.

Florida calculates child support payments using the following: Florida Child Support Guidelines, the number of children, the incomes of the parents and the timesharing agreement. The actual calculation is nuanced, but you can estimate child support payments using our online child support calculator.

Child support may be provided through direct payments or indirect benefits. Indirect benefits could include payment of medical expenses and insurance or come in the form of mortgage payments.

Child support obligations generally end when the child turns 18 years old, joins the armed forces, gets married, is legally emancipated or dies.

A Note About Withholding Payments

If your former spouse is withholding child support payments or not complying with the timesharing plan, notify your attorney immediately. Your Boca Raton divorce attorney will work with you to bring these issues to the court’s attention. Please note that it is illegal to withhold support payments or ignore timesharing plans because your former spouse is violating the terms of your divorce or any child custody agreement.

Tax Considerations

It is critical to understand the tax consequences of a Florida divorce before entering into a marital settlement agreement or before the court enters the final judgment.

Tax-related issues to consider include:

  • Effects of property transfers
  • Dependency deduction for children
  • Taxes and deductions for child support and alimony

Failure to examine the tax consequences of your divorce may result in mistakes that cannot be corrected. In addition to consulting with your Florida divorce attorney, you may need to consult with your accountant to fully appreciate the tax implications.

Restoring Your Former Name

Florida law provides a divorcing spouse the chance to restore their former name in a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. If you wish to change your name, you must request to restore your name in the original petition or counter-petition. In addition, you can only restore your name to the name you held immediately before the marriage.

Domestic Violence and Restraining Orders

Domestic violence comes in many forms and affects millions of Americans, both women, children, and men. The Klein Law Group has experience supporting victims of domestic violence and experience with restraining orders.

Please know that you are not alone. If you or a loved one has been the victim of domestic abuse, reaching out for help is the only way to prevent future abuse.

Regardless of the assets and other significant issues at stake, the Klein Law Group is committed to serving your best interests. Since every divorce is different, the approach taken by your Florida divorce attorney must also be unique. Our trusted Boca Raton divorce attorneys are committed to providing the tailored approach you need to ensure the best possible outcome and a fresh start.

Section Four

Finding The Best Divorce Attorneys in Boca Raton

The process of divorce is stressful and messy regardless of how contentious your divorce. Managing deadlines, completing necessary filings and communicating with your spouse take time, energy and money. One of the best decisions you can make is to select a lawyer who will represent your interests and keep you fully informed of the process and progress—someone who fully appreciates what is at stake.

When hiring a Boca Raton divorce attorney, you should feel confident that you’ve selected the best attorney to zealously advocate for your needs. But, how do you know whether you are hiring the best? Research, research, research.

When searching for a Florida divorce lawyer, consider these seven essential qualities.

Qualifications

All Florida divorce attorneys must have graduated from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association, passed the Florida bar exam and provide proof of character and fitness (good moral character).

Compatibility

Boca Raton residents seeking divorce attorneys often focus on the lawyer’s qualifications, experience, and legal fees, but they forget to consider whether the attorney is a good fit in terms of personal and professional style. For an overall positive experience, you need to be personally compatible with your lawyer.

As you move through the divorce process, you will need to share some of the most intimate details of your personal and family life with your attorney. Your lawyer should be someone whom you trust unreservedly and with whom you feel comfortable sharing all the necessary information. If you are not at ease with your lawyer, you might withhold vital information out of embarrassment or discomfort, and wind up damaging your case. Some clients may be more comfortable with a male or female divorce attorney. At Klein Law Group, we have both male and female Boca Raton divorce attorneys with over 45 years of combined experience.

During your initial consultation, consider whether the attorney listens to you without interruption, directly addresses your concerns, and has a presence and manner that you like. Also, assess whether the lawyer’s style is one that meshes with your desires and needs. Some people don’t mind a cool, hands-off approach in a lawyer, while others prefer working with lawyers who give close, personalized attention. Before retaining your Boca Raton divorce lawyer, think about the approach that will satisfy you over the long-term.

Experience

Your future is too important to put in the hands of a novice. It is critical to invest the time to determine whether your prospective divorce attorney has the experience and skill to achieve the results that you seek. A knowledgeable attorney will have the insight to avoid legal and strategic pitfalls that could further hurt the outcome of your divorce. They’ll also know how to streamline the process where possible, saving you time and money.

Confirm that the attorney specializes in divorce relevant to your situation. During the initial consultation, ask the prospective attorney how many Florida divorce cases they have handled over the years and how long they’ve been practicing divorce law. You should also ask whether they’ve handled cases with facts like yours.

The Klein Law Group has represented clients in a vast array of divorce matters, including grey divorce (divorce in your later years), military divorce, same-sex divorce, contested and uncontested divorces and mediations.

Fair Rates

Given the uncertainty of the financial ramifications of your divorce, it is natural to be concerned with a divorce attorney’s rates. Resist the urge to go with the least expensive attorney you can find: too often, you get what you pay for, which could lead to unfavorable outcomes in terms of child custody, alimony, child support and the divisions of assets and debts. Instead, look for an attorney whose rates reflect good value relative to their experience.

A trustworthy Boca Raton divorce attorney will take the time to explain their rates and fee structure at the outset so that there are no unhappy surprises later in the process. In particular, look for an attorney who provides a written fee agreement and guarantees to stick with its terms throughout your case. Note that in Florida, your divorce attorney is prohibited from performing work on a contingency fee basis.

Communication

The divorce process is complex and highly confusing, and it is easy for clients to feel overwhelmed. That’s why you should look for a divorce lawyer who will communicate with you regularly, using easy-to-understand language. Before hiring a Boca Raton divorce attorney, confirm that the attorney has a communication policy. Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as:

  • How often will they contact you? Under what circumstances?
  • What is their preferred method of contact?
  • If you contact them, how quickly will they respond?
  • Is their communication policy guaranteed?

You should also understand with whom you’ll be communicating. Find out who your regular point of contact will be: Will it be a paralegal or an attorney? Associate or partner? If your regular contact isn’t an attorney, can you speak to one if desired? A good divorce lawyer will have a plan in place for you to talk to the person most knowledgeable about your case, as needed.

Timeliness

Having a divorce attorney who respects your time is essential. If the attorney has scheduled a meeting or phone call with you, you have every right to expect them to be prompt and fully prepared. Attorneys should also respect the timing of filing deadlines and court appearances, as any oversight can have severe consequences for your case, including delays or even dismissal. Look for an attorney who guarantees timeliness and places it as a priority.

Reputation of Your Lawyer in The Court

Attorneys earn their reputations by exhibiting professionalism, providing exceptional communication, and through their success rates and client satisfaction. In addition to the above qualities, you should also consider an attorney’s reputation in the court.

Their success rates are a good indication of their experience and skills; however, keep in mind that divorce differs from other areas of the law where there are always clear winners. If your divorce is especially contentious, you will want to know about the percentage of cases that are settled in court versus mediation.  

Since divorce attorneys regularly interact with judges, court personnel, mediators and other divorce attorneys, it is also helpful to have an attorney who is well-respected among his or her peers.

7 Questions and Topics to Address with Your Boca Raton Divorce Attorney

Before your initial consultation with a divorce attorney, prepare a list of questions and topics to discuss. This will ensure you leave armed with the knowledge you need to feel comfortable, or less anxious, about your impending divorce. This discussion will also help to reassure you that your attorney is the right fit for you.

  1. Share your goals.

During your initial consult, you should share with your divorce attorney what your goals are. Before your meeting, you should take the time to consider what you want to get out of the divorce, and what you want your life to look like after divorce. Are you concerned about custody of minor children or exposing your children to the process any more than necessary? Are you worried about long-term financial stability or making alimony payments? The more specific you can be about your goals (or concerns), the easier it will be for your attorney to develop a plan geared toward achieving those results.

  1. Discuss any immediate issues.

If your spouse is restricting your access to funds, attempting to alienate you from your children or committing any similar negative action, bring these to the attention of the attorney. When emotions run high, it can be difficult to step back and think about the long-term ramifications of a decision. While there may not always be one “right” way to resolve a situation, there are certainly “better” ways to handle a problematic spouse and your divorce attorney can offer guidance on these situations.

  1. What actions should I take now to protect myself?

Your lawyer should warn you against any behaviors or actions that could work against you in the future and advise you of any actions to take to protect your legal rights and interests. This discussion may include the best ways to communicate with your soon-to-be former spouse.

  1. Do you have a strategy for my case?

Bear in mind that it is impossible to accurately predict the path of your divorce and the outcome, especially during an initial consultation. However, your attorney may be able to explain likely possible outcomes based on past experiences.

  1. What are your rates and payment structure?

Your lawyer should explain their rates and payments structure clearly and carefully, and provide you with an explicit fee agreement, in writing, at the outset. Be sure that you understand not only the legal fees but also the filing fees and expenses for which you’ll be responsible. Also, spend time discussing the payment schedule and plan. If you don’t understand something related to fees or billing, don’t be shy to ask for clarification. Your lawyer has an ethical obligation to ensure that you understand.

  1. Can you talk me through the Florida divorce process?

As you’ll be immersed in the divorce process for your immediate future, you need to know what lies ahead. Your divorce lawyer should be able to orient you to the process by giving you a step-by-step account of what to expect. This discussion should include an overview of the difference between the court-driven process and options for mediation.

  1. What do you require of me?

You will also have some work to do during the divorce process. Your lawyer will need certain documents and information from you and the materials you’ll have to produce will vary depending on the specifics of your case. Expect to have to fill out some paperwork and turn them over to your lawyer to review. You should also ask when you may have to appear for certain proceedings.

If you have any questions about divorce or would like to schedule a free initial consultation with our experienced Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, and Boca Raton divorce lawyers, contact us today!

CONCLUSION

Divorce proceedings can be highly contentious, but even under the best circumstances emotions can run high. The best thing you can do to ensure the greatest possible outcome is to choose an attorney who will aggressively advocate for you—an attorney who will take the time to know you, who cares about you and your family and who will fight tirelessly on your behalf.

The Klein Law Group is intimately familiar with the unique challenges that accompany divorces and is prepared to assist with the following issues:

  • Contested and uncontested divorces
  • Alimony
  • Complex and high net worth divorces
  • Divorce mediation
  • Domestic violence and restraining orders
  • Property division and division of other assets and debts
  • Simplified divorce
  • Child custody and child support issues

Divorce is challenging, both financially and emotionally. But you do not have to fight and struggle alone. Contact Klein Law Group at (561) 353-2800, or go online to schedule a consultation today.