Three Important Issues in a Florida Divorce

And the professionals who can help you navigate the divorce process

By Carlos Harrison | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on December 4, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorneys Joel H. Brown and A.J. Barranco, Jr.

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If you are heading toward a divorce in the state of Florida, what legal issues should you be aware of? And perhaps more importantly, whose help will you need to successfully navigate a divorce?

Many legal questions can arise in a divorce proceeding. Three of the most common include finances, child custody, and alimony or spousal support. To navigate these and other issues, it’s advisable to seek help from a divorce lawyer as soon as possible. In addition, some couples may need the help of professional translation services.

Three Key Issues in the Divorce Process: Finances, Child Custody, and Alimony

Since Florida is a “no-fault” divorce state, neither party has to prove a cause for the divorce other than that they no longer want to be married.

However, a judge may consider a number of factors in deciding the financial matters related to a case. For that reason, says Miami family law attorney A.J. Barranco Jr., the head of A. J. Barranco & Associates, P.A., people need to keep good records.

Don’t fight over the unimportant things. Oftentimes people will wind up fighting over pots and pans, because emotions run high in a divorce. Don’t spend the money fighting over tangible items that are not really important to you.

Joel H. Brown

1. Financial Documentation

“Financial documentation is very important,” says Barranco. “They need to keep receipts. They need to keep copies of tax returns, financial statements, lists of assets, lists of bank accounts, financial accounts, brokerage accounts.”

Barranco says people should know the value of the marital home; the same is true with a family business.

2. Determining Child Custody

If kids are involved, it may be even more important to determine their needs:

  • Do they need special training or tutoring?
  • Do they have medical conditions that require medication or care?

Elizabeth S. Baker, an attorney in Coral Gables, says she’s seeing more and more cases involving children with autism. “It can be very expensive,” she says. “It depends on how you are addressing the problem.”

When it comes to the question of who gets the kids, Florida courts are required to award shared custody unless it’s determined that that’s not in the children’s best interest.

3. Alimony

Permanent spousal alimony, however, is now a thing of the past in Florida. Governors Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis vetoed bills in 2013, 2015, and 2022 that would have limited the amount of alimony and how long it must be paid. But in July 2023, DeSantis signed Florida SB 1416 ending permanent alimony.

Financial documentation is very important. They need to keep receipts. They need to keep copies of tax returns, financial statements, lists of assets, lists of bank accounts, financial accounts, brokerage accounts.

A.J. Barranco, Jr.

Do I Have a Simple or Complicated Divorce?

If a couple has no minor children, unresolved financial obligations, alimony claims, or disagreements over how to divide their property, they may be able to file for a simplified divorce by filling out a form.

If minor children, alimony claims, or disagreements over property and financial obligations are involved, couples must seek a “Regular Dissolution of Marriage,” in which one spouse files a petition stating that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” and what that person wants from the divorce.

The other spouse must be notified and given 20 days to respond. They then have 45 days to provide financial documents to the court. An uncontested divorce, in which both parties agree, could conclude within weeks. Disagreements can cause weeks or months of delays and may end in a trial, with a judge deciding the issues.

The Benefits of Getting a Divorce Lawyer

A qualified attorney can offer reassurance at a very difficult time and the expertise to help bring about the best outcome.

“The time when you really need a lawyer is when you have a dispute over children’s issues or there are complex financial matters, where there is a business or there are things that are owned,” says Miami family law attorney Joel Brown, former chief judge of the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida and now a partner at Freidin Brown.

Even then, Brown says, people can save a lot of money if they are realistic about what they want. “Don’t fight over the unimportant things,” he says. “Oftentimes people will wind up fighting over pots and pans, because emotions run high in a divorce. Don’t spend the money fighting over tangible items that are not really important to you.”

When it comes to selecting attorneys, people should talk with more than one and pick the one they feel most comfortable with. They should consider their experience, their background, and if complaints have been filed against them. Since disputed divorces with complicated issues can drag on for months or years, how much the attorney charges can be an important consideration.

Pick a lawyer who will not inflame the case,” says Brown. “You need to have somebody who’s going to fight for you, but if you spend a fortune in attorneys’ fees, use up your children’s college education fund and your life savings, then both people lose.”

Individuals who don’t speak English may need to pay more to get divorced in Florida. Often, much more. “The court does not let you operate in Spanish,” says Baker. “And depositions cannot be taken in Spanish. You have to have a certified translator when you’re in court or in a deposition. And that is really expensive.”

So you can’t just bring in a family member to serve as an interpreter or to provide an accurate translation of legal documents. You need a certified translator, regardless of whether your attorney is bilingual.

A deposition that takes several hours, she says, can cost $600 with a professional translator. “An all-day trial might be $1,000 a day.” That’s on top of the attorneys’ fees, which vary widely—from a flat fee of several hundred dollars to hourly rates of $350 an hour or more.

A non-English-speaking couple filing a “simplified divorce” may not need an attorney. They can get the forms at the court clerk’s office or online. But they still need a certified translator for their final hearing.

How do you get one of those? Generally, Baker says, a translation company can be scheduled through the court for as little as $15 for the brief time needed to answer the court’s questions in a simplified divorce. Turnaround times for translated documents will vary.

For legal advice on getting a divorce decree in Florida, visit the Super Lawyers directory to find an experienced family law attorney or law firm in your area.

For more information on this area, see our overviews of family law, divorce, and mediation and collaborative law.

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