Collaborative Family Law FAQs

Q. Can I get a divorce without a lawyer?

A. You can, but you may make a mistake that you will have to return to court to fix at considerable expense. An attorney can help you avoid making a costly mistake.

Q. What are the residency requirements to divorce in Florida?

A. You or your spouse needs to be a Florida resident for six months — even if you live apart.

Q. What is collaborative divorce? Is it allowed in Florida?

A. Collaborative divorce is a generally less stressful and acrimonious approach to marriage dissolution. In Florida, each party retains his or her own attorney, but the work is done outside of the courtroom. The goal is to reach an out-of-court agreement which resolves all issues of the marriage, including child support, alimony, child custody and property division.

Q. What are Florida's alimony guidelines?

A. Alimony is support paid to the dependent spouse after the marriage has been dissolved. Alimony is also referred to as spousal support or maintenance.

Florida alimony awards are based on one spouse's need and the other spouse's ability to pay. The court will examine the standard of living established during the marriage, each party's age and physical and emotional condition, financial resources, and contribution to the marriage, including homemaking, child care, education and career building. The court will also look at all sources of income available to either party and the time necessary to finish education or training to find appropriate employment during this time of transition.

Long-term marriages are more likely to result in permanent alimony, which is not generally awarded in short marriages.

Q. How are assets and property divided in a Florida divorce?

A. In Florida, property is divided by the equitable distribution principle. Non-marital property is not subject to equitable distribution. But marital property is divided equitably.

Q. How can I gain protection against an abusive spouse?

A. Under Florida law, a domestic violence victim or someone in imminent danger of becoming a victim may apply for an injunction to restrain the abuser from committing acts of domestic violence, such as assault and aggravated assault, battery, sexual assault and battery, stalking, kidnapping, or other criminal acts that result in physical injury or death.

Persons may seek domestic violence injunctions against any abusive household member. The police have a duty to enforce a domestic violence protective order, and the person violating the order could be arrested or charged with contempt of court.

Q. What are the laws on child support, child custody and visitation in Florida?

A. Florida Statutes do not use the word "custody" or designate a primary or secondary residential parent. In Florida, both parents have "timesharing" with their children. The court will order a timesharing schedule that is in the best interests of the children.

The court will order child support to be paid in accordance with mandatory state guidelines, unless the court makes a specific finding that the guideline amount is unjust or inappropriate. The statutory guidelines specify a minimum amount that is determined directly from the parents' combined net monthly income, apportioned according to each parent's ability to pay.

Factors the court reviews in order to determine timesharing include contact with the nonresidential parent, emotional ties, provision of a stable environment, and evidence of domestic violence or child abuse, among other factors.

Q. What is a parenting plan, and do I need one?

A. A parenting plan is a settlement agreement outlining how the parents will cooperatively parent their children. The plan includes a timesharing schedule, holiday timesharing schedule, provisions for extra-curricular activities, education, child care, contact between the parents, contact between the children and parents, and travel provisions and limitations.

Q. Can I move out of Florida with the children? 

A. If the children are Florida residents and the other parent objects to the relocation, you must file a Relocation Petition and obtain the Court's permission to relocate with the children.  Generally, the court will weigh the children's ability to spend time with both parents against the needs of the parents to live where they can earn a living or get assistance from relatives.

An important factor is the extent to which a parent facilitates timesharing with the other parent. A Court may be loathe to allow the relocation of a parent who has a history of denying or obstructing the other parent's timesharing.

If you want to move with your child or children more than 50 miles away from your primary residence, you must get a written agreement from the other parent and obtain the court's permission by filing a Petition for Relocation.

Q. If both parents share custody, who pays child support?

A. If both parents enjoy equal timesharing, then child support is still calculated using the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet, which is dependent on income, percentage of timesharing (only overnights are used for purposes of establishing the percentages), health insurance, and costs of day care and uncovered medical expenses.

Q. What types of paternity tests are used in Florida court cases?

A. In Florida, the legal paternity of a child may be established through a paternity action initiated by the mother, putative father or the child; by the father's marriage to the mother; by a foreign judgment of paternity; or by the father's acknowledgment of paternity. A man's name on a birth certificate does not determine his legal rights as a parent.

Florida paternity cases can also use a blood test or DNA test to determine paternity. In Florida, any party to a paternity proceeding may request that a blood test be ordered by the court.

Q. Do I need to use a guardian ad litem or parenting plan evaluator?

A. When necessary, a guardian ad litem may be ordered to advocate on behalf of children in court. Or, the court may order a social investigation and parenting plan recommendation by a mental health professional.

Q. Do Florida courts favor mothers over fathers?

A. Florida Statutes do not favor one parent over the other based on gender.

Q. Can the court order supervised timesharing?

A. When necessary, a judge can order supervised timesharing or even no timesharing at all. Severe and untreated mental health disorders, drug addition, alcohol addiction, domestic violence or neglect can serve as cause for supervised or elimination of visitation.

Q. What if parents cannot agree on a parenting plan?

A. If the parents cannot agree on a timesharing schedule, then the court will order a schedule based on the best interests of the children.

Q. When can I modify the parenting plan?

A. A modification can be requested any time there has been a substantial change in circumstances. It is up to the court to determine if the modification is in the best interests of the children.

Q. Can a parent refuse to allow visitation in Florida if child support is not paid?

A. No. Timesharing and child support are treated separately from each other in Florida courts except as it relates to calculating child support.

Q. How much child support will I have to pay?

A. Florida uses a child support calculator based a number of factors, including monthly income, expenses and the number of children. That number is then adjusted depending on the circumstances, amount of time you spend with the child and other factors.

Q. Can I change my child's last name?

A. A parent who wants to change a child's last name must file a petition with the court and serve the other parent with the petition by service of process. If the other parent objects, then there will be a court hearing. The court will order a name change upon a showing that it is in the best interests of the child.

Q. Will my child be asked to testify in court?

A. In the vast majority of cases, children do not appear or testify in court. A child's appearance requires special permission by the court, and those cases are rare.

Q. Do grandparents have custody and visitation rights in Florida?

A. The Florida Supreme Court has consistently held all statutes that have attempted to compel visitation or custody with grandparents based solely on the best interests of the child standard to be unconstitutional.

In cases of military deployment or assignment in excess of 90 days, Florida allows a parent with visitation rights to designate a family member, a stepparent or a relative of the child by marriage to take on the timesharing schedule on the parent's behalf.

Contact Us

We have worked with many families in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties. To learn more about our collaborative approach, call our Pensacola office for an initial consultation at 850-450-1755 or use our convenient online form.