Many clients come in for an initial consultation wanting to know more about their rights and what actually happens in a divorce case. Of course, many people know that the intended result is that they will no longer be married to the person that they are currently married to, for whatever reason. Florida is a no fault state, meaning that the court will in fact grant a divorce without requiring that a party prove adultery, abuse, abandonment, fraud, or any other claim.
However, the most important issues I tell my clients to think about in the course of a divorce, in terms of where their rights will be affected, is:
- Equitable distribution: The respective assets and liabilities that have been accumulated by a couple during their marriage and how the court splits those up.
- Child support: If there are children of the marriage, this will be very easy to figure out in the state of Florida, and will be addressed in greater detail later in the post.
- Child Custody/Visitation: Florida now requires a Parenting Plan to ensure the specific visitation rights of each parent.
- Alimony: Whether that should be ordered in a certain case, alimony is basically spousal support.
Equitable Distribution is Not Equal Distribution
People hear equitable distribution, and think that it means equal distribution, because equitable is "close" as a word to equal. But in fact, it's quite different. Equitable distribution, which occurs during settlement or mediation, is whatever the court or the parties determine is fair to settle certain debts and split up certain assets. Anything that is acquired during the marriage of two individuals is generally subject to equitable distribution. This could include your house, other real estate properties, cars, personal property, who gets left paying the bill on an ugly credit card statement, and many other items. Equitable distribution is usually a very important consideration in a divorce case.
If you have children during the course of a marriage, then the state says you must pay child support regardless of your involvement in that child's life. Child support in Florida is determined on a basis of who is the primary residential parent and who is the secondary residential parent. Beyond that, it basically goes into a formula set forth by Florida statutes.
The formula works by taking the relative income of one party during the course of a year, adding up the total income of the other party during the course of one year, on an annual basis, and then coming to a gross number. To put numbers to this, let’s suppose that the husband in a certain case makes $60,000 per year, and the wife in a certain case makes $40,000 per year. The total amount then, earned by the couple, is $100,000. From there, Florida Statutes set forth what the child support payment should be, based on the total income of the parties.
Each individual would then usually be required to pay their pro-rata share of the total amount. For instance, in this example where the husband earned $60,000 annually and the wife earned $40,000 annually, then the husband would typically be ordered to pay 60% of the total amount specified in the statute, with the wife paying the remaining 40%. The Statute which establishes the amounts also has determinations for how many children are at issue. Unless there are special circumstances, the court does not typically deviate from this. There may be additional support obligations that are then added to this, for recurring costs such day care, schooling, and other needs of the minor child or children at issue.
It is important to note that child custody is a term that is no longer preferred by the Florida courts because the relevant issue is now: "Who is the primary, and who is the secondary residential parent?" Rather than simply saying, "You have custody of this child and you do not," the courts now call for a Parenting Plan. A Parenting Plan is a very detailed document which sets forth with specificity when a child will be with a given parent: on what days of the week, what holidays, what times, and so forth. The primary residential parent has overnights with the minor child or children some majority of the time, with the secondary residential parent exercising reasonable visitation.
Alimony is spousal support and is an issue in many cases. When the court determines whether or not spousal support should be ordered, it takes into account various statutory factors, which include: the length of the marriage and the sacrifices of the parties. An example of the latter would be if one spouse has ignored their own career so that another spouse could get certification in a certain profession, or perhaps an advanced degree. Another situation could be where one person has not worked in order to be the primary caretaker of the children. The term of the marriage, if long- term, can be the single biggest determining factor for the court in determining entitlement.
In many cases, alimony is negotiated by the parties involved. In fact, this is a frequent topic of negotiation during mediation in a divorce case, because many see leaving such a decision up to a judge, who may not know much about the couple involved before trial day, as too risky. No matter how uncomfortable mediation can be during the course of a divorce, it is often preferable to trial where essentially a stranger will determine what each person will be awarded with regard to child support, alimony, and other matters.
If you are facing the reality of divorce, contact our offices today at (954)330-8994 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation. Hearing the details of your situation will aid in determining what approaches and solutions may be available to you.
You will also want to read: Yes, It's Necessary To Hire A Divorce Lawyer.