Experienced West Palm Beach Divorce Lawyer
Contested divorces can be long, complex and difficult to resolve, because neither party involved can agree on major issues such as alimony, allocation of debts and personal property. Things can become even more challenging if children are involved, because issues such as child custody and child support payments are often contentious. If you are facing a contested divorce, contact our West Palm Beach divorce lawyer for help.
What Is a Contested Divorce?
In Florida, the courts define a contested divorce as one in which one party disagrees with the other party about major issues, including:
- Child Support
- Child Custody
- Child Visitation
- Spousal Support
- Division of Assets
- Division of Debts
- Responsibility for Family Lawyer Fees
Steps in a Contested Divorce
In Florida, when a divorcing couple cannot agree on terms, the court will consider it to be a contested divorce. At some point, the court requires that the couple participate in divorce mediation.
During divorce mediation, both parties agree to meet with a neutral third-party to resolve their differences. The mediator’s job is to listen to both parties, and find a resolution that often requires compromise. This is especially true in a contested divorce that involves children. Because mediation is often emotional and challenging, most divorcing couples hire family lawyers to attend the mediation sessions, to ensure that they receive the proper legal advice.
If mediation is successful, both parties can sign a Marital Settlement Agreement, and a Parenting Plan when children are involved, and submit these legally binding documents to a family court for final approval. At the hearing, the presiding judge will ask both parties to verify their residency, and to confirm that they signed the agreements. The judge will then ask both parties if they still wish to pursue a Dissolution of Marriage.
Once this is confirmed, the judge will sign a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage, and order the document to be recorded with the Clerk of the Court.
If mediation is not successful, then the couple will proceed to a trial, where their lawyers will argue the merits of their position in front of a family court judge. In Florida, divorce trials are bench trials, which means there is no jury, and a judge makes the final decision regarding all unresolved issues.
Contested divorce trials are conducted in the same manner as a normal trial, giving lawyers the power to call witnesses, cross-examine witnesses, introduce evidence, and make opening and closing arguments. Contested divorce trials can cover all major issues of the divorce that the parties cannot agree upon, or only the issues that are still undecided.
Disadvantages of a Contested Divorce
Because there are unresolved issues, contested divorces take longer than uncontested divorces, which means they usually result in higher attorney and court fees. Furthermore, the acrimony that often accompanies these divorces can make it difficult to achieve an equitable resolution, because neither side wants to compromise or seem as if they are ‘giving in.’