A Step-by-Step Guide for Out-of-Court Divorce Settlement in South Florida

Date Posted: September 22, 2023 11:48 am

A Step-by-Step Guide for Out-of-Court Divorce Settlement in South Florida

Introduction

Not every divorce has to have a court epilogue. Although each divorce is a challenging life experience, some marriage dissolutions can be less emotionally taxing. Spouses who are able to agree on the decisions that have to be made when they are divorcing can benefit from settling out-of-court. Mediation and Collaborative divorce provide divorcing couples with more amicable, timely, and cost-effective solutions that do not wreak havoc on family relationships.

This article will shed light on Florida divorce statistics and walk you through nine steps for a comprehensive out-of-court settlement in South Florida. Stay tuned!

Florida Divorce Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 3.5 divorces among 1000 Floridians in 2019. That is a slightly higher rate than the national average (2.3 persons per 1000).

Divorce is increasing among older Florida residents (‘Gray Divorce’). The rates have doubled among people over 50 in the past three decades.

Divorce cases represent a significant portion of Florida court dockets. However, couples seek ways to end their marriage less contentiously and more amicably. There is a growing trend towards out-of-court settlements, which reflects the overall tendency toward - consentual dispute resolutions among Florida residents. Let us look at the numbers.

Data from the Florida Department of Health show that more than 70% of divorces in the Sunshine State involve out-of-court settlements.

Alternative dispute resolution methods provide time and cost-effective marriage dissolution (4-6 months compared to an average of 1-2 years in litigation).

Finally, out-of-court processes result in over 80% of successful outcomes in child- related matters. Similarly, the success rate in dealing with financial issues (marital property division, child support, and alimony) goes over 65%.

Nine Steps for Out-of-Court Divorce Settlement in South Florida

Even if you and your spouse agree on all or most of the issues related to your divorce, successful and lasting out-of-court divorce settlements require careful consideration and a professional approach. Here are the nine steps you need to take to ensure your divorce settlement benefits everyone involved.

Step 1: Seek Legal Representation

Out-of-court divorce settlements do not involve going to court and engaging in adversarial litigation. However, consulting with an experienced family attorney who can provide invaluable insights about the alternative dispute resolution journey you are about to embark on is vital. In addition to advising you about the process, family law attorneys can stand by your side during the mediation sessions, ensuring you are negotiating from a place of strength (the mediator must remain neutral and cannot provide parties with legal advice). If you and your spouse choose Collaborative Law, each of you must have your own Collaborative attorney to represent you.

Step 2: Consider Mediation

Mediation is an out-of-court dispute resolution method gaining popularity among South Florida residents. The mediation process involves an impartial third person called the mediator who works toward creating a friendly environment in which parties engage in open negotiations. The mediator facilitates negotiation by motivating each party to open up about the case in private sessions and participate in active talks during joint sessions. Unlike state-appointed judges, mediators cannot issue the decision resolving the dispute. Similarly, they do not represent either party nor provide legal advice. Their job is to remain neutral and facilitate negotiations with the aim of settling. Mediation can result  in a full resolution of all divorce-related issues, such as property division, child custody, and alimony.

Step 3: Collaborative Divorce

The Collaborative divorce process is an alternative method in which each party hires a Collaborative attorney to help them negotiate the divorce terms. But unlike in litigation, the lawyers do not engage in adversarial, all-or-nothing battles to win the case. Collaborative divorce is not a zero-sum game. Instead, Collaborative lawyers work shoulder-to-shoulder to help their clients reach mutually beneficial outcomes that fit their particular goals and interests. In Collaborative Law, parties sign a participation agreement promising to disclose all material information. Transparency is a cornerstone of this approach. Because dealing with accurate factual information is crucial to reaching successful outcomes, parties work with a team (in addition to the lawyers, a financial specialist and  a communication facilitator) to help them come to solutions that fit the unique needs of everyone involved.

Step 4: Financial Disclosure

Florida financial disclosure rules (Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure, Rule 12.285) deal with the Financial Affidavit form in which parties disclose all relevant financial information, including gross annual income, debts, income tax returns, gift tax returns, loans, ownership interest, savings retirement accounts, etc. Unlike litigation, financial disclosure is not mandatory, and parties engaging in out-of-court processes (such as mediation and Collaborative Law) cannot compel the other party to disclose financial information. Rather, the parties voluntarily agree to disclose all relevant information.  Open communication and mutual trust are central to these processes. Although not necessarily mandatory, Financial Affidavit forms are often utilized and may be required by the court in order to finalize the divorce. Exchanging these forms can further promote transparency and mutual respect, contributing to lasting, positive results.

Step 5: Create a Parenting Plan

Step 5: Create a Parenting Plan

Spouses who have children can also benefit from out-of-court divorce settlements. Instead of passively waiting for a judge, who is a stranger to the parties and their family, to determine their future relationship with children, parents are behind the steering wheel in mediation and Collaborative divorce. Unlike judges, who do not have the time or expertise to deal with complex child custody issues, parties in Collaborative Law utilize experts (child specialists, psychologists, etc.) and their insights about the best interests of their children. A well-designed parenting plan that results from meaningful negotiations and expert input outlines timesharing schedules and other aspects of the parent-child relationship.

Step 6: Property Division

Florida is an equitable distribution state. That means the judge divides marital property equally unless specific factors justify unequal division. Equity does not necessarily mean equality. While judges consider various factors when deciding on property division (length of the marriage, the contribution of each spouse, etc.), spouses engaging in out-of-court methods freely negotiate the property arrangements. In mediation, the neutral third party helps facilitate the conversation, while Collaborative attorneys work together to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for their clients.

Step 7: Alimony and Child Support

Florida law allows parties to negotiate child support and alimony arrangements. However, parties are not free to waive child support and there are rules regarding child support that must be followed. Florida has specific guidelines for calculating child support (Florida Statutes, Title VI, Chapter 61, Section 30), so mediators and Collaborative attorneys must help the parties follow these guidelines. In calculating the amount, parties must consider the income, child and health care costs, standard needs, etc.).

Step 8: Review and Finalize the Agreement

After settling on all divorce-related matters, the next step is reviewing and finalizing the agreement. You and your spouse should go through each clause, double-checking its content, consulting with lawyers if there are vagaries in the agreement. Once the review is over, the final agreement is drafted and signed. In mediation and Collaborative Law, generally the lawyers draft the agrement.

Step 9: Court Approval

Out-of-court divorce methods will spare you from the financially and emotionally draining process that involves countless court appearances. However, you cannot avoid all contact with the court. Although the parties most likely do not have to attend the final hearing, their attorneys (or the mediator) must submit the agreement to the court for final approval. The judge will review the settlement, and - if it complies with Florida family law - they will issue a court decree terminating your marriage.

Key Takeaways

  • Florida out-of-court settlements have gained popularity in recent years;
  • Over 70% of Florida marriages end out of court;
  • Nine steps for an out-of-court divorce settlement in South Florida include seeking legal representation, considering mediation and Collaborative divorce, engaging in financial disclosures, creating a parenting plan, dealing with property division, child support, and alimony, and finalizing the agreement and obtaining the approval.
Conclusion

Conclusion

Going through a divorce is never easy. However, choosing out-of-court methods can make things - not only bearable - but emotionally healing and mutually beneficial, too.

Carolann Mazza, a Supreme Court of Florida certified family mediator and an Accredited Collaborative Lawyer, has over two decades of hands-on experience dealing with divorces in South Florida.

Hundreds of satisfied clients recommend her the best. Avoid adversarial litigation that wreaks havoc in family relationships. Instead, opt for Carolann and her out-of-court solutions that promote lasting positive outcomes.

Carolann's secret to success is utmost devotion to the interests of her clients, adherence to the highest ethical standards, and professional excellence that set her apart from the competition.

Reach out today at 954-527-4604 or email us at carolann@cmazzalaw.com to schedule your confidential consultation.