UNCONTESTED Divorce in Florida:
The Solution You Are Looking For
What is an Uncontested Divorce?
The primary goal of any divorce should be to keep your case “uncontested”. This means all of the legal issues you have to resolve to get a divorce in Florida are resolved without ever entering a courthouse or having a judge make any decisions for you. An uncontested divorce is the fastest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to get a divorce. Perhaps even more importantly, it keeps the control of your lives in your own hands, where it belongs. This post will walk you through how to use family mediation to keep your divorce orderly, cordial, and uncontested from start to finish.
3 Tips to Having an Uncontested Divorce
Tip #1) Don't. File. ANYTHING.
Once you file a petition for divorce and pay the filing fee, your case becomes “contested”. A case file is opened for you at the courthouse, a judge is assigned to your case, and you incur an obligation to give formal legal “notice” of the case to your spouse.
The petition is a series of requests from you to the judge, asking them to resolve the legal issues in your case in a certain way. Usually when these are completed on your own, or with the help of a litigation attorney, they tend to be lopsided in one person’s favor, and often contain unflattering and one-sided assertions.
The other spouse faces a deadline to respond to these requests. That’s usually when someone figures “I’d better get a lawyer to respond and to tell my side of the story”. It is easy to see how cases quickly spiral towards litigation once the first paperwork is filed.
Timing is Everything. When you use family mediation from the beginning, you can reach an agreement on the legal issues, so when it comes time to file for divorce, you speak with one voice. Once there is nothing left for the judge to decide, you can file everything at once. Your petition, the other spouse’s response, and all supporting documents can be included in one packet that gets filed online, and you can proceed to the finish line.
Judges love this. Family court judges are faced with an overwhelming number of cases to get through, and their jobs depend on finishing their docket of cases. The faster they can process your case, the more time they can attend to those contentious litigations and the endless hearings of couples who did not stay uncontested.
It is never too late to mediate. While the best time to use family mediation is at the beginning of the divorce process, mediation continues to be available after a petition has been filed and a litigation is already underway. Even if a decision has been reached, mediation is available before any appeals take place.
Some people get tired of contentious depositions and evidentiary hearings that drag on for months or years. Others run out of money and lose their attorney as expenses quickly get out of control. Florida family lawyers cannot work on contingency fees in divorce cases, and they don’t give discounts when cases run longer than anyone expected. At any point during a litigation, the two spouses can say “enough” and hit the pause button on their litigation. No matter how contentious a divorce has been up to that point, and even if mediation has been attempted unsuccessfully in the past, you can still use family mediation to transform your case back into the realm of the uncontested divorce.
Tip #2) Streamline Your Discovery
“Discovery” is where most people get stuck in litigation. It is a potentially lengthy and contentious process where two parties argue about which evidence they will eventually be able to present to a judge when making arguments about the legal issues involved in a divorce. It often includes sitting for depositions where attorneys ask you questions and try to use your answers against you later on. It includes requests for financial documentation, which leads to arguments about what has to be revealed and when.
Uncontested divorces skip all of that. You can use family mediation to discuss which information is important to exchange, and how it is going to be used productively in your discussions. Even if the end result of disclosing income and other supportive documents is the same, the tone of the request is completely different. Its not requested in a mediation to be used against you, its requested to allow both spouses to make a well-informed decision about what the fairest and most reasonable way to move forward is going to be.
To streamline your discovery, consider a “trust, then verify” approach. You should provide proof of income, current and anticipated expenses, and anything else the other spouse considers relevant. To reach an agreement, both spouses are going to need to have confidence in the accuracy of the numbers they rely on. Providing supportive documentation is an opportunity to make each other comfortable enough to agree to each other’s proposals.
Tip #3) Use "Financial Neutrals" not "Expert Witnesses"
Financial neutrals play an important role in keeping your divorce uncontested. These are the same people who would otherwise be used as expert witnesses in a contested divorce. When used in mediation, neutrals are hired to take an unbiased look at the numbers behind the legal issues. Expert witnesses used in the context of litigation are hired to use numbers to make arguments on behalf of whichever side is paying for their services.
|Financial Neutral||Expert Witness|
|Unbiased towards either side||Advocates for one side|
|Gives objective data||Gives the results you want to hear|
|Helps you make a decision||Uses numbers to make arguments|
Which issues can a financial neutral help with?
- How to calculate the value of your home
- How much is your family business worth?
- Budgeting & future planning
- Debt management & consolidation
- Portfolio management and dealing with stocks during divorce
- Pensions and retirement plans
- And many other topics as well.
The financial neutral helps facilitate a discussion about the fairest way to separate marital assets, debts, and equities. You might agree to go with whatever the numbers come out to be, or you might just use the calculations to test whether your own estimations are in the right ballpark. Knowing what things are worth can be a necessary step when figuring out what to do with them. However it is ultimately used, this information is part of making well-informed decisions and crossing another issue off the list while keeping your divorce uncontested.
How much does an Uncontested Divorce Cost?
Uncontested divorce means saving money in a variety of ways. It is less expensive because its more efficient, and prevents you from getting stuck in discovery as explained in Tip #2 above. But some costs are inevitable. Divorce is expensive enough even when there is little to no conflict or disagreement. Even a highly efficient uncontested divorce still has the following costs:
- Legal information. It takes some amount of time to review and explain the legal issues you have to resolve to get a divorce in Florida. For a judge to approve your marital settlement agreement, you have to attest that the legal issues were explained to you and that you understand the legal implications of the agreement you signed.
- Legal writing. A settlement agreement has to be drafted with sufficient detail, using legal words and terminology that can be understood and applied by the judge. How much detail has to be in your marital settlement agreement if you both have a common understanding about how you want to proceed? The answer is a moving target called “sufficient detail” and its definition may vary depending on which judge happens to be assigned to your case. If there are children involved or support provisions in your agreement, it will take time to ensure enough detail is included. The judge has to receive enough information to understand the financial context of your divorce, to identify that your plans are realistic and economically viable, and to feel that there is little to no room for arguments in the future.
- Financial information. Financial documentation has to exchanged and explained, with both spouses given the opportunity to ask questions about how the documents are going to be used. A well-informed agreement is going to depend not just on exchanging or receiving the relevant financial documentation, but understanding what it means.
- Filing and court fees. You still have to pay a filing fee to the state of Florida, and assemble a packet of financial, demographic, and legal information. Even in an uncontested divorce, your case file has to be created and maintained online, and a final hearing has to be scheduled with the judge. For as long as Covid-19 concerns remain, the final hearing may be conducted via online videoconference.
Clearly, some divorce costs are inevitable even when a case does not have a lot of complexity. Family mediation in an uncontested divorce typically costs between $2k and $3k, which is a fraction of the cost compared to collaborative divorce or litigation. The benefits of an uncontested divorce are priceless, and have the potential to last a lifetime.
An “uncontested divorce” should be the primary goal of every divorce. It does not take a lot for a divorce to spiral out of control, and it is not always easy to say you want to try to resolve things peacefully. But those who are willing to try to use family mediation to keep their divorce uncontested are rewarded with fair outcomes and a peaceful future.