I am often asked about the divorce process, what the time frame is for a divorce, and how you go about getting a Jacksonville divorce. Well, here are your divorce answers.
First, after you have retained your Jacksonville Board Certified divorce lawyer, you will file your divorce in the Florida county in which you both last lived as husband and wife. I practice in Duval, Clay, Nassau, St. Johns, and Baker Counties. Click on each county for the link to that Clerk of Court to learn about divorce filing fees. The divorce filing fee is about $409.00, depending on the county, plus $10.00 for the summons.
After you file your divorce case, the other party will be personally served with the divorce papers. Typically, the civil process division of each Sheriff's office will send an officer out to serve them with the divorce papers. The links for the Sheriff's offices are here: Duval, Clay, Nassau, St. Johns, Baker. The fee typically is $40.00.
The other person then has twenty days to hire their own divorce lawyer and file their papers. If they do not respond, you can get a default against them, which means you can proceed without them. It does not automatically mean that you get everything that you want. That is up to the divorce Judge.
After each side files papers saying what they want from the divorce, then each party will be required to provide a financial statement and all of their financial documents to the other party. Sometimes divorce lawyers will send requests for answers to specific questions in writing or requests for more documents or even take a deposition. A deposition is simply when a lawyer asks you some questions with a court reporter present so that the divorce lawyer will know what you are going to tell the divorce Judge. This is not a court hearing and there is no divorce Judge present. This process is on-going and sometimes seems like it never ends!
If necessary, each divorce lawyer may file what is called a motion for "temporary needs". This means that the divorce Magistrate (who is a divorce lawyer appointed by the Chief Judge and vested with certain Judge "powers" to make temporary decisions which must be approved by your divorce Judge) will hear your divorce case and make some temporary decisions designed to stabilize your children or finances until your final divorce hearing. If either party does not like the temporary decision, then they may apply to the regular divorce Judge to review it. Please note that it can take up to ninety days to get this temporary hearing, the other party can object to the hearing or contest the decision which can delay things, and that these decisions are not carved in stone and may be changed by your regular divorce Judge. Why do Magistrates hear the temporary hearings? Oddly enough, they were designed to get a faster hearing. Now it may be possible for your regular Judge to hear it sooner and to fit it in on their calendar before the Magistrate can do so.
After the divorce lawyers know all about your financial situtations, then sometimes the timesharing of children is an issue to be decided by the divorce Judge. Many times, the divorce Judges will require a psychologist to be hired by the parties who will prepare a written recommendation to the Judge regarding who the children should live with most of the time. This psychologist will perform psychological testing of each party, see each party with the child(ren), and talk to the witnesses. They will not come to your home. These experts regularly testify before the Court and are accepted as people who the Court will trust for their opinion. They are not on anyone's side and it does not matter who picks the name. Just because a certain divorce lawyer picked the psychologist does not mean that the report will come back in that divorce lawyer's client's favor. Here are the names of some of the parenting plan evaluators most often used by our divorce Judges: Yates, Bloomfield, Neidigh, and Hope Haven Children's Clinic. The cost usually is shared equally and can cost as much as $5000.00 or more. Just as a side note, you should obtain the other parent's approval and input in selecting any counselors or therapists for your child(ren). The other parent may be able to prevent them from testifying if there was no notice to them about the appointments. Many non-court-appointed therapists also will not testify or not testify without a release which may be difficult to obtain if the other party objects. This process can take sixty days or more.
After the parenting plan evalation is finished, you will attend divorce mediation. This usually takes place about three months from when you filed for divorce or before if the parties want to attend sooner. See my other blogs about mediation. If you agree at mediation, you case will be over once the divorce Judge signs your agreement. The person who filed the divorce will go see the divorce Judge for five minutes with their divorce lawyer and have it signed. The other party need not even go to Court. Agreements with regard to the timesharing of children or child support MUST be approved by the Judge and are not automatic. Divorce Judge's usually with approve any other agreement such as alimony or property. Divorce mediation can cost about $400.00 or more each, depending on how long you are in divorce mediation. Some of the best divorce mediators in town are (in alphabetic order): Michael Mattson, Fred Moberg, and Deborah Simon.
If you do not agree at mediation, you will have a final hearing before your Judge and then the Judge will decide your case. This takes place anywhere from four months to a year after you file for divorce depending on the county and your particular Judge. Please note that after your final divorce hearing, the divorce Judge does not always make a decision that day. A final decision can sometimes take weeks before you hear anything from the Judge and then there is some additional time while the divorce lawyers agree (or argue) as to the language which matches what the divorce Judge said. When that process is done, you will get your final divorce papers. You are not divorced until the Judge signs your final divorce papers.
I hope this answers most of your basic divorce questions. I know this is all very confusing for most people. Call me. I am here to help.