I Want A Divorce – But What If We Have to Go To Court?
What Will I experience in Divorce Court?
When you are pursuing a divorce, sometimes going to court can become one of the most intimidating prospects. Whether you’ve been in court before (for any reason) or have only seen it on TV, the stress of appearing in a divorce courtroom in front of a judge can be yet another emotional challenge.
Knowing what to expect from a divorce courtroom can make a big difference in how you approach your hearing date. Every divorce process is a little different, but understanding the role of the courtroom in the process will help you to feel prepared and aware of what you need to do in order to get the best possible outcome for your divorce.
My divorce is uncontested. Do I really have to appear in court?
Every couple seeking a divorce in Florida will have to appear before a judge at some point in the process. That includes divorces that are uncontested (in which the spouses agree on all terms of the separation).
Even if you are able to file the paperwork yourself in a simplified divorce process, you and your spouse will still have to present yourselves in court for a hearing to finalize and affirm the marital dissolution agreement and settlement terms. You can pursue a simplified divorce if:
- You or your spouse have been a resident of Florida for at least six months;
- You and your spouse are both able to appear to file the forms to initiate the divorce and to attend the final hearing in person;
- You and your spouse have no children, either born during the marriage or adopted;
- You and your spouse agree on how property, assets and debts will be divided.
This is the easiest possible course for divorce. When you and your spouse appear before the judge, you answer a brief series of questions to confirm the details of your case. Among other questions, you’ll be asked how long you and your spouse have lived in the state of Florida, when you were married, and when you separated. You’ll also be asked to confirm that your marriage is irretrievably broken – the legal terminology under which a marriage can be dissolved in Florida.
If all has gone well, at the end of the hearing, the magistrate will sign the final settlement that you and your spouse have created, and grant a final judgment dissolving your marriage.
When DO I need to appear in divorce court?
The hope is always to be able to resolve the details of a divorce outside of a trial setting. This is the purpose of mediation and even of discussions with a licensed divorce attorney. However, this is not always possible.
Appearing in family court is a requirement for those who have children. The court is there to help ensure that the best interests of the child are looked after in the course of dissolving the marriage. Florida provides for “shared parental responsibility,” a co-parenting arrangement that requires joint decisions be made on established key aspects of a child’s life. If you have children, you and your spouse will appear with your attorneys before the judge to establish time-sharing schedules and a parenting plan.
If possible, it is wise to settle important details like custody sharing and schedules outside of the courtroom with the assistance of attorneys or mediators. Otherwise, the well-being of your children will be placed in the hands of someone who does not know them nearly as well as you do.
Though most couples without children prefer to resolve their divorce and create their Marital Settlement Agreement without going to trial, sometimes it becomes necessary when the two spouses cannot agree on the division of property, assets, and debts.
Should this be the case, each spouse will have to take the witness stand and undergo questioning from their attorneys. A representative for the children may also be called (referred to as a guardian ad litem) as well as expert witnesses if needed on matters like finances, property, or business.
When it comes to the question of dividing assets, Florida law provides for equal division of all items acquired during the course of a marriage. The judge may make exceptions with certain pieces of property in certain cases. For example, the family home may be given to the spouse with primary custody of the children.