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Most of us enter matrimony thinking the relationship with our spouses will last forever. Some couples live to see their marriage flourish, happily enjoying their grandchildren or sharing other unique experiences during the oldest age.
Those who are not that lucky go their separate ways, realizing that was best for everyone involved.
In 1990, divorce rates in Florida were high, with 6.3 divorces per 1000 residents. During 2020, there were approximately 3.6 divorces among 1000 inhabitants of Florida. Despite the decrease in the divorce rate in Florida over the last three decades, the numbers are still higher than the overall rate in the United States (2.3 divorces per 1000 people), ranking Florida among the top ten states with the highest divorce rates.
Traditionally, couples hire an attorney to represent them in court. Litigants representing themselves have become more common in Florida since 2006. The percentage of pro se litigants in family matters increased from 66% in 1999 to over 70% in 2020.
A pro se divorce is a process in which spouses represent themselves in court or other divorce procedures.
Representing yourself in a Florida divorce offers multiple advantages. In a pro se divorce, no attorney fees are involved, meaning the litigation costs are considerably lower. Despite this, you can hire an attorney to help you with particular issues during the process (representing you in a single hearing or drafting an individual petition).
Next, the process is less complicated. Attorneys representing parties in a divorce procedure often battle with their counterparts, trying to outsmart them. Litigation strategies cause unnecessary delays without contributing to an effective resolution of your case. Litigating pro se means a simple and quick process.
On the other hand, there are disadvantages too. If your case involves complex assets, high net-worth property, and unclear legal issues, you should seek professional legal help. Sometimes, only one spouse represents themselves while the other hires an attorney, and the court will not give legal advice or offer assistance to a pro se litigant. For that reason, you should consider professional legal representation whenever you are unsure about the legal or financial aspects of the case.
To get the most out of the divorce process if you decide to represent yourself, here is a list you and your spouse should check before engaging in a procedure without legal representation.
In Florida, you do not have to prove your spouse committed adultery or other marital misconduct. The only ground for divorce in a no-fault state is an irretrievably broken marriage. If you and your spouse cannot live together anymore (regardless of the reason), any spouse can initiate a divorce.
To initiate a pro se divorce, you must negotiate until you agree on issues such as child custody, parental time, child support, alimony, and marital property division (uncontested divorce).
Depending on your situation, there are different petitions you and your spouse can file to initiate a divorce procedure.
Florida law defines a short-term marriage as a marriage lasting seven years or less. With little or no assets and liabilities, parties can end the marriage by filing an appropriate petition. When minor or dependant children are involved, they can pursue a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Dependent Minor Children. On the other hand, spouses can initiate a divorce by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with No Dependant or Minor Children or Property.
Florida is an equitable distribution state, meaning the courts divide marital property, assuming distribution should be equal unless specific factors justify an unequal distribution. Couples willing to represent themselves should agree on marital property (assets and liabilities). The consensus should involve an agreement on issues like contribution to the marriage by each spouse, their economic circumstances, contribution to personal careers or education of each spouse, and the desirability of retaining the family home. Hence, spouses must find a reasonable and fair solution regarding the marital property division.
Any agreement between spouses in a pro se divorce should include renouncing the right to appeal. An uncontested divorce involves agreeing on all pivotal issues related to a divorce. So, it makes no sense to leave the question of an appeal open, which is why you should extend your agreement to a post-judgment phase, waiving the right to appeal.
To settle the property and children-related issues in a pro se divorce, you and your spouse must first resolve emotional issues preventing you from open communication. Free flow of information and cooperation is crucial in pro se divorces, which is why spouses must deal with negative emotions between themselves. Overcoming anger, resentment, and bitterness is a sign of strength, not weakness. Therefore, parties should bridge the gaps preventing cooperation because that is the only path toward an agreement on other issues necessary to settle the divorce.
As mentioned above, agreeing on custody, parenting time (visiting), child support, and other children-related issues is a basis for an uncontested divorce. Divorcing without legal representation is recommendable when spouses are on the same page regarding their children. Hire an attorney if there is any disagreement between spouses regarding these issues.
Litigation is a traditional method of resolving divorce-related disputes. Filing a petition and going to court is a conventional way spouses deal with disputed matters, including pro se litigants. However, litigation is an adversarial process that can escalate the conflict instead of resolving it. Fighting in a court battle rarely contributes to reconciliation and a positive post-divorce relationship (applies to pro se divorce litigation, too).
Since pro se divorces are uncontested (spouses agree on all issues), 95% of spouses in Florida select mediation to resolve their dispute.
Mediation (as an out-of-court method) offers far more advantages than a vindictive court process.
Spouses who agree on custody, child support, parenting time, alimony, and marital property division most frequently entrust their divorce to a neutral third professional called the mediator. The mediator is a retired judge, an attorney, or a professional with subject matter expertise, sophisticated conflict management skills, and years of experience working with divorcing couples.
The mediators do not have decision-making authority, meaning they cannot resolve the dispute, offer legal advice or propose a solution to a conflict.
If negotiations are successful, the mediator will prepare the so-called consent order. After signing, the mediator will submit it to the judge. The parties can also settle through mediation before filing for divorce – that agreement is called pre-suit judgment.
Under Florida law, there are several types of mediation agreements, depending on whether you have children and property:
If negotiations fail, that is an impasse causing the mediator to refer the case to the judge.
Apart from an impasse or a settlement, the parties can reach a partial agreement, meaning they agree on some issues (for example, child custody) but disagree on others (marital property division). The partial settlement is legally binding regarding the matters it covers. Dealing with the rest of the dispute requires parties to go to court.
Ann M. Goade is a certified Florida family mediator with over 35 years of experience dealing with family matters.
Ms. Goade can help spouses in an uncontested divorce settle quickly and effectively, setting the foundation for a peaceful post-divorce relationship.