Family Law Guidance
40+ Years of Trial-Winning Experience in Pinellas County
The Law Office of Yeazell and Sweet have been representing clients in Clearwater and the surrounding area for over 40 years. The firm is familiar with the local courts and judges, and in their years of courtroom experience they have rarely lost a trial. The legal team is extremely hardworking, putting more than the hours billed to diligently craft their clients’ case. From filing for divorce to negotiating child custody and alimony to settling property division, The Law Office of Yeazell and Sweet can provide the personalized and experienced representation you need to succeed in your family case.
Getting a Divorce in Florida
Florida is a no-fault divorce state, so individuals seeking to file for divorce do not need to show that a spouse engaged in bad behavior (e.g., adultery) to get a divorce. Either spouse can file for a no-fault divorce simply by citing the marriage is irretrievably broken or irreconcilable. (A judge may consider one spouse’s fault when deciding child custody or calculating an alimony award, though). Note that one spouse must be a resident of the state and have lived in Florida for 6 months before filing for divorce.
Florida law addresses two kinds of divorce – a traditional dissolution or a simplified dissolution case. A traditional divorce begins with one spouse filing a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage,” which will set forth the grounds for separation and any plans for property division, alimony, child custody, and child support. The spouses may then reach a divorce agreement on their own, with a mediator’s help, or in trial with a judge.
A simplified dissolution of marriage is a quicker, easier way to get divorced in Florida. Couples must meet all the following requirements to file for a simplified dissolution:
- Both partners agree the marriage can’t be saved;
- There are no minor or dependent children, and no children are expected;
- Neither spouse is seeking alimony;
- Both spouses have agreed to a written settlement dividing assets and debts; and
- Both spouses agree to the simplified procedure which includes giving up the right to a trial and appeal.
Child Custody and Visitation Plans
An important post-divorce discussion for couples with children is the child custody plan. Florida custody laws recognize that children generally benefit from maintaining frequent contact with both parents, so neither parent has an advantage in a custody case. More importantly, though, a child’s best interests are central to any child custody decision in Florida. A court will consider the extent to which each parent has demonstrated an ability and desire to meet a child’s developmental needs and be involved in the child’s life.
More specifically, a judge will consider the following factors to make a child custody decision:
- Each parent’s willingness to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent;
- Each parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs;
- Each parent’s physical and mental health;
- Each parent’s moral fitness;
- Each parent’s ability to provide the child with a consistent routine;
- Geographic viability of the parenting plan, specifically the amount of travel it would take to honor the time-sharing schedule;
- Child’s adjustment to home and community;
- Reasonable preference of the child if of a sufficient age and maturity;
- Evidence of domestic violence, if any;
- Each parent’s ability to provide a safe and stable environment for the child;
- The child’s developmental age, needs, and abilities; and
- Any other relevant factor.
Alimony (or spousal support) isn’t awarded in every Florida divorce, though a judge may award alimony when the requesting spouse has a financial need, and the other spouse has the ability to pay support. Generally, to determine whether an alimony award is appropriate and how much, a judge will consider:
- The length of the couple’s marriage;
- The standard of living during the marriage;
- Each spouse’s age and mental health;
- Tax effects of alimony on each spouse;
- Each spouse’s financial resources and monthly expenses and debts; and
- Any other relevant factor.
There are a few different types of alimony that may be awarded. A judge may award temporary alimony while a divorce is pending or rehabilitative alimony to help a divorced spouse become self-sustaining (e.g., finishing a degree, getting a job). Lump-sum alimony refers to a single lump-sum alimony payment that is non-modifiable. Permanent alimony, rarer to obtain, is typically paid monthly by one spouse to the other and can last months or years. Most permanent alimony awards terminate when the supported spouse dies or remarries.
Dividing Marital Property
Another important post-divorce consideration is the division of marital property. Florida is an equitable distribution state, which means that a judge will divide a couple’s marital property equitably or fairly, but not necessarily equally. If couples cannot agree on a settlement on their own, a judge will divide property based on the following:
- Each spouse’s income and job opportunities;
- The length of the marriage;
- Either spouse’s contributions to the other spouse’s earning potential or career;
- The desirability of keeping the marital home as the residency for the couple’s minor children;
- Either spouse’s waste of marital assets; and
- Any other relevant factor.
Note that only marital assets and debts are divided when a couple divorces. Marital assets include everything the spouses acquired, both separately and together, during the marriage, such as IRAs, pensions, 401(k)s, vested and nonvested stocks, profit-sharing benefits, annuity, deferred compensation, and insurance plans and programs.
While separate, or nonmarital, property (property owned before marriage or acquired as an inheritance during the marriage) cannot be divided because it is considered property outside of the marriage, a judge may divide certain assets of the separate property if it increased in value during the marriage as a result of contributions of marital funds or the efforts of either spouse. Commingling of marital and separate property also renders separate property as marital property able to be divided, even if it was acquired before the marriage. These situations can be very complex and will require the skill of an experienced family attorney.