Can you get Divorced Without a Lawyer in Florida?
Yes. You can represent yourself in virtually any legal cause or proceeding. Legally, you are not required to have a lawyer to get a divorce in Tampa or anywhere in Florida.
That doesn’t necessarily answer whether you need a lawyer. Divorce proceedings could present important and intricate factual and legal issues. In contested cases, you have a number of steps prior to trial. In these situations, legal representation can prove very valuable.
Schedule a Free Divorce Consultation with a Real Tampa Divorce Lawyer
If you have decided to go through a divorce without legal representation, you can still benefit from talking to a divorce lawyer at Robert Sparks Tampa Divorce Attorneys.
Schedule a free consultation with our skilled lawyers. It’s a no-risk, no-obligation way to be made aware of every potential pitfall you might encounter when going through even a friendly, cooperative divorce.
If you feel we can help you safeguard your rights and retain more of what you’ve worked so hard for, we stand ready to represent you. We help clients successfully navigate mediated divorces, collaborative divorces, and contested divorces decided in court.
Potential Issues in a Tampa Divorce
When you ask a court to dissolve the marriage, you are not simply shedding yourself of the title of spouse. The parties must grapple with how to divide property, provide for the care and custody of children, and whether one spouse needs or should get support from the other.
Unless the spouses agree amongst themselves, Florida judges divide marital property through equitable distribution. By default, each spouse gets one-half value of the marital assets. However, an equal distribution may not always prove equitable, or fair. In dividing marital property equitably, the court may consider factors such as one spouse’s contributions as a homemaker or caretaker of the children, whether a spouse needs the marital home to rear the children, and whether one spouse has intentionally disposed of, wasted, or destroyed marital assets.
Divorce lawyers must also help clients classify what property a court may divide. Under Florida’s equitable distribution statute, marital property consists of land, vehicles, jewelry, stocks, and other assets acquired during the marriage and before separation. You also count active increases in the value of the property during the marriage (even if the asset is originally separate property), and gifts from one spouse to the other.
Spouses and lawyers also should consider the existence of a premarital agreement. In such contracts, the parties before marriage decide how to divide marital property or issues of alimony. If your divorce case involves a prenuptial agreement, you might have issues regarding the interpretation or even the validity of it – especially if a party seeks to pursue equitable distribution.
Child Custody and Support
Florida law expresses a policy that children should have frequent interactions and contact with their parents after a divorce. To that end, the spouses enjoy a rebuttable presumption in favor of time-sharing. Below, we’ll discuss parental plans as part of a divorce case. Still, judges have the duty to safeguard the best interests of the child and may award one parent primary custody. In creating or changing parental sharing or custody plans, courts consider factors such as:
- The parents’ physical and mental health and moral fitness
- Division of parental responsibilities
- Whether parents will engage third parties for responsibilities
- The child’s behavior and performance in school, the home, and the community
- Prioritizing the child’s needs over the parent’s needs
- The presence of criminal activity or substance abuse in the home or environment to which a child is or will be exposed
- The child’s educational and developmental needs and the parent’s willingness or ability to meet them
- Whether a party has engaged in child or sexual abuse or exploitation, domestic violence, child neglect, or child abandonment
- The ability and willingness to provide structure, stability, and discipline for the child, such as through scheduling homework, bedtime, curfews, and meals
Parents may also seek and enforce orders for child support. Guidelines determine the amount of the obligation, based upon the number of children and each spouse’s respective income. The obligations of child support also encompass health insurance.
These complex emotional and legal issues can make talking to a Tampa Divorce Lawyer necessary. You may uncover options that you didn’t know were available to you and your family.
How Is Spousal Support Decided in a Tampa Divorce?
Certain spouses can get financial support from the other. Florida divorce law generally recognizes four types of spousal maintenance:
- Temporary, which affords support for a needy spouse from the time the divorce action starts to the final divorce decree
- Bridge-the-Gap, which is unique to Florida in which a party can obtain financial support to transition from married to single living
- Rehabilitative, which focuses on assisting a dependent or needy spouse in becoming self-sufficient through developing or reacquiring education or work skills. Claimants for rehabilitative alimony must demonstrate a specific plan for rehabilitation.
- Durational, which assists a needy spouse financially for some time after the divorce – based generally upon the number of years of marriage
- Permanent, which can be ended or modified upon changed circumstances
Most alimony claims require some showing that the claimant depends upon the paying spouse to either maintain a standard of living that existed during the marriage or to become self-sufficient. Fault, such as divorce, acts of domestic violence, cruelty, or other fault can factor into a spousal support award.
For more help with understanding this important topic, check out our page on Tampa Spousal Support.
The Process for a Florida Divorce
Whether you should seek the help of a Tampa divorce lawyer depends on the complexity of your case.
At one end, you may be eligible for a “Simplified Dissolution of Marriage.” This divorce method involves a joint petition and a single hearing before a judge. To get a simplified divorce, you and your spouse must agree on dividing property (unless you don’t have any property), not have minor children born into the marriage, not be pregnant if you’re the wife, and not have between either of you a pension or retirement plan.
If either of you has a retirement plan, it takes a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) for the plan to distribute the funds. You’ll likely need an attorney skilled in preparing such an order.
When you can’t use a “Simplified Dissolution of Marriage,” you still have a possible avenue to a relatively uncomplicated divorce. Spouses who agree on property distribution, responsibility for credit cards and other debt, the parenting plan, and spousal support can obtain an uncontested regular divorce. You’ll have to file a petition and have it served on your spouse. The Florida court system has a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Dependent or Minor Children” form. Here, you can memorialize your agreement on parenting, division of property, alimony, and other matters.
Do I Need a Tampa Divorce Lawyer in a Contested Divorce?
With a contested divorce, you and your spouse cannot agree on one or more issues or claims arising from the marriage. The process becomes more arduous.
Florida law requires the petitioning spouse to file a financial affidavit within 45 days after filing the divorce petition. The respondent must submit one within 45 days after being served with the petition. In the financial affidavit, the parties disclose income, expenses, debts, and assets such as land, house, vehicles, and other personal property.
The financial disclosures don’t end with just the financial affidavit. You and your spouse must produce to each other or the opposing lawyer a rather lengthy list of financial documents. Just some of those include:
- All federal and state tax returns for the last three years, and W-2s, Form 1099, and K-1 (Partnership returns) for the last year
- Pay stubs for the last three months before serving the financial affidavit
- Documents of other earned income, such as profits from a business or other self-employment income for three months before service of the financial affidavit
- All statements of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other brokerage accounts for the last 12 months
- Bank statements for the last three months for checking accounts
- Bank statements for savings accounts for the last year
- Deeds for properties owned in the last three years
- Loan applications and financial statements used or prepared within 12 months of service of the financial affidavit
- Insurance policy declaration pages
In a contested divorce, parties may exchange information through written questions called interrogatories and depositions. Your Tampa Divorce Lawyers would carefully craft the questions to elicit answers that may help their case or expose weaknesses in the opponent.
With legal counsel, you get guidance on how to truthfully and carefully respond to discovery questions. Certain questions may call for objections, especially those that seek to breach the attorney-client privilege or the internal thoughts and work product of the lawyer.
Trials in contested divorces generally occur before a judge rather than a jury. Even in a bench trial, parties must lay foundations for particular types of evidence, object to harmful or inadmissible evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and present factual and legal arguments. Divorce Lawyers often have to address statutes, cases, and questions about the interpretations of these laws and their applications to facts. Trying to navigate a trial without an attorney might prove tricky with all of these circumstances in mind.
Contact a Tampa Divorce Attorney
At Robert Sparks Tampa Divorce Attorneys we are ready to defend the interests of our clients and safeguard their rights. We understand the concerns that are most critical to those going through divorce in Florida.
We offer a free case consultation that is valuable even if you do plan to represent yourself through a divorce. You’ll learn some valuable information on retaining the things and protecting the relationships that are most important to you.
Robert Sparks Attorneys stands by you through divorce negotiations and litigation while putting a priority on your wellbeing. We make sure you’ll have what you need to rebuild your life, retain your career and assets, and protect your time with your children.