What is the legal process of a family law case?
Each family law case is different, and therefore the process of each case is different. Some family law cases are very short-lived, lasting less than a month, especially when the parties are in agreement as to all issues in the case. However, other family law cases can last for years before a final resolution is reached. Furthermore, judgments involving parental responsibility, time-sharing, child support, and alimony can be modified years after the judgment is final.
Despite the uncertainty of each family law case, there is a general process through which most family law cases will proceed.
Filing the Action
Family law cases begin when one party files the appropriate petition with the clerk of court. The party who files the petition to begin the family law case, is called the “petitioner”. The other party is called the “respondent”. Once the petition has been filed, the petitioner will have the petition, along with other documents, served on the respondent by a qualified process server.
The Respondent’s Answer
Although the process is different with domestic violence injunctions, the respondent in most family law cases usually has 20 days to respond to the petition by a written answer that addresses all issues raised in the petition. The respondent can also file a counter-petition that alleges facts and issues that were not raised by the petitioner. If the respondent fails to respond within the 20 day period, the petitioner can seek a default judgment, which gives the petitioner most of the relief they requested in the petition. (However, the court must have some evidence of the respondent’s income before any support can be awarded to the petitioner).
The Discovery Phase
If the respondent does respond in writing within 20 days, then the divorce case will proceed through the discovery phase in which both parties exchange information with one another. Throughout this phase, the parties’ are required to provide extensive financial and other information and documents to opposing side. The lawyers will review the information received by the other party and if possible, come to a settlement of all issues in the family law case.
Because family law cases can last for months or even years, some parties will find themselves needing temporary relief pending the final resolution of their family law case. If the family law case is one in which the parties need some sort of temporary relief, such as support, a court-ordered parenting plan with specified time-sharing, attorney’s fees, partial equitable distribution, or exclusive use and possession of the marital home, then the party seeking the relief may file a motion with the court. After their temporary relief motion is filed, the party or their attorney will schedule a hearing with the judge’s office. At the hearing, the judge will make a decision regarding each issue raised in the motion for temporary relief. The judge’s orders on temporary relief will be in place until such order has been modified by another temporary relief order, or until the final judgment is issued.
Mediation and Settlement
If the parties cannot come to a settlement of the issues within 90 days, the judge will usually order the parties to mediation where the parties will appear before a mediator (a neutral third party that is certified in the mediation of disputes) in an effort to resolve all the issues in the family law case. If all issues in the family law case are not resolved at mediation, then there may still be time to settle the remaining disputed issues before the final hearing with the family law judge.
There are many times in which the parties cannot reach a settlement agreement in their family law case. In these situations, the parties or the court will set a final hearing which functions as a bench trial where the family law judge will hear and see evidence presented from both sides. The family law judge will also hear argument from both sides. After both sides have had the opportunity to present evidence and argument, the family law judge will usually take the case under advisement, which means he will take the time necessary to come to decisions on all issues in the divorce case. The decisions will be issued in the form of a “Final Judgment”, which will address in detail each party’s rights and obligations with respect to all issues raised in their family law case.
What are common disputes in family law cases?
Most often times, the parties to a family law case are attempting to resolve issues of custody and visitation of children (now referred to as parental responsibility and time-sharing), child support, alimony, property distribution (equitable distribution), modification of prior court orders establishing child support, parental responsibility, time-sharing or alimony, domestic violence, paternity, enforcement of prior court orders, and recovery of attorney fees.
Is it better to settle my family law case?
It may be better to settle your family law case, however, each case is different. Therefore, you should have an experienced family law attorney on your side when you are attempting to settle your family law case.
Florida Statutes and case law provide for the creation of certain rights and obligations between parties to a family law case. The interplay between all the factors that must be weighed during this process can be complicated, and it is best not to settle your case until you have a clear understanding of the relevance of all the factors in your family law case.
The major benefit of settling your family law case is that it will be much less expensive than litigating the issues before a family law judge. Another benefit is the satisfaction and peace that often comes with being part of the process in deciding the resolution of your family law case. Sometimes, however, the other party or their attorney will be unreasonable in attempting to reach an agreed upon resolution. If this is the case, then settlement of your family law case is likely not the best option, and it may be better to precede to a hearing before the family law judge.
Do I need to hire a lawyer for my family law case?
If you are thinking about pursuing a family law case, or you have been served with a summons to answer to a family law case, then important rights and obligations will soon come into play. Decisions may be made regarding the most intimate aspects of your life, such as the amount of time spent with your children, how much support will be paid, how your assets and debts will be distributed, and much more.
Although family law may seem straight-forward in some respects, it is a highly litigated and highly complicated area of the law involving voluminous statutes, rules of procedure and case law. The decisions that are made in family law cases can have long-lasting effects. When children are involved, the decisions made during the family law case can create rights and obligations that last more than a decade.
If you are involved in a family law case, it is important that you speak to a qualified and experienced family law attorney. Without the assistance of a family law attorney, you may find yourself waving important rights, foregoing obligations, or undertaking unnecessary obligations. Do not attempt to settle or litigate a family law case on your own, your future and your children’s future may be forever impacted after the final resolution in a family law case.