The ancient Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “To everything there is a season,” and that includes divorce. People want to enjoy their summers and summer vacations, and they also want to enjoy – and try to save money through – the holidays. That leaves only the first few months of the year. Thus, with a new year ahead and the prospect of some extra cash through an IRS tax refund for a lot of people, dissolution season ends up coinciding with tax season – January through April – which means that plenty of divorce petitions are being filed right now. If you plan to pay for your divorce with the cash that you’re getting back from the IRS, this is the time to consult with a good divorce attorney, and in south Florida, with an experienced Boca Raton divorce lawyer. For quite a number of reasons, you can’t go into the divorce process alone or without the advice and services of an experienced divorce attorney.
At least one spouse’s finances, income, and way of life are probably going to change dramatically as the result of a divorce, so if you are using your tax refund to pay for divorce this season, you must be prepared to deal with the financial challenges and changes. If the financial aspects of your dissolution are not handled properly by an experienced divorce attorney, you could be walking right into a personal financial apocalypse. Laying the right financial groundwork for a dissolution begins with fully evaluating your finances and your financial condition. The next step is contacting a good divorce lawyer about the cost of legal fees and the other expenses linked to divorce. When your marriage reaches the point where dissolution becomes unavoidable, consider taking these six precautionary steps:
- Cancel any joint credit cards to keep your spouse from piling up debts that could become your responsibility.
- Create a budget and adhere to it. Reduce your spending wherever you can.
- If the beneficiary on your bank accounts and life insurance policy is your spouse, name another beneficiary.
- Determine what other changes to your life insurance policy may be needed.
- Protect your half of any joint checking or savings accounts. Take out half of the balance and start a new account in your name only at another bank. Inform your spouse of the withdrawal in writing, and keep a copy for yourself.
- Entirely reconsider all of your financial, estate, and retirement plans.
WHAT ARE THE ISSUES IN A DIVORCE?
Until an attorney meets with you personally and considers your circumstances and legal requirements, there’s simply no way to even guess what a divorce will cost. The price of a divorce is different in every state and every region, and candidly, in every case. How complicated are the issues in the divorce? What is the extent of the marital property, assets, and debts? Are there children involved? Can the divorcing spouses resolve some or all of their disagreements out of court? The issues in most divorces typically include:
- if children are involved, child custody, support, and visitation
- the division and distribution of marital assets, property, and debts
- spousal support (commonly called “alimony”)
- legal fees and other claims for reimbursement
- breach of fiduciary duty claims
Thus, what you spend on a divorce depends on the type and amount of legal services that you need. If everything is disputed, it’s going to cost more, but if some of those issues can be worked out in advance, you’ll pay considerably less. Some lawyers will arrange a sensible, realistic payment plan. And under Florida law, in some cases, your spouse could conceivably be ordered by the court to pay all or part of your attorney’s fees. The law states that a court in a dissolution proceeding “may from time to time, after considering the financial resources of both parties, order a party to pay a reasonable amount for attorney’s fees, suit money, and the cost to the other party…” [Florida Statute § 61.16(1)]. Most states have a similar provision, but if you are divorcing or considering divorce this tax season, have an experienced divorce lawyer explain what the fees and the options are going to be in your own divorce.
DO YOU HAVE TO “PROVE” ANYTHING?
When you’re working alongside a divorce attorney, focus on getting your money’s worth. Make full use of the legal insights, advice, resources, representation, and experience that your attorney offers. The state of Florida is a no-fault divorce state, so either partner may petition for divorce if the marriage is irretrievably broken and there is zero chance of a reconciliation. You do not have to prove that your spouse was at fault in any way to get a divorce in Florida, although you may still divorce on “grounds” if your marriage partner has suffered from mentally incapacitation for at least three years.
The residency requirements for a divorce in Florida are straightforward. At least one spouse must reside in the state for at least six months before filing for dissolution, and you have to file in the circuit court jurisdiction where you (or your spouse) live. There are twenty circuit courts in Florida; the fifteenth circuit is Palm Beach County. If there are no disputes between the divorcing spouses, if all of the documents are in order, and if all of the paperwork is complete, the court may be able to enter a final judgment for dissolution in as little as twenty days.
HOW IS MARITAL PROPERTY DIVIDED?
Regarding the division and distribution of marital property and assets, Florida is an “equitable distribution” state. What that means is that the court will distribute the marital property “fairly,” but not necessarily with 50-50 precision. Marital property includes the home or homes and vehicles, bank accounts, the income and debt acquired in the marriage, and more. It can also include business ownership, ownership of equities and bonds, objects of art or special value, and even the family pets. A Florida court may divide the marital property unevenly if the financial facts make that the fairest distribution. The court will consider the economic situation of each spouse, the length of the marriage, the contributions of each spouse to the marriage, and the best interests of the children if children are involved.
If you and your spouse can agree on how to divide your marital property, a Florida court will very probably approve that agreement. Property division may sound easy, but determining which spouse actually owns what property can be a quite complicated legal and financial process, especially if a divorce becomes acrimonious or if the property and assets that must be divided are considerable and extensive. But whether yours is a high-net worth divorce or you simply own a modest home, a couple of cars, and a savings account, you’ll need to work with an experienced divorce attorney who routinely handles the division and distribution of property in divorce cases. It’s the only certain way to ensure that you’ll be treated right, and for some, the only way to ensure that divorce won’t leave them destitute.
WHAT ABOUT RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS?
Especially in south Florida, where many older couples are divorcing in recent years, one matter that can add some real difficulty to the dissolution process is the question of retirement plans. Marital partners may have a claim to IRAs, pensions, 401Ks, and other retirement funds. Discuss any concerns about your retirement accounts when you first consult with your dissolution attorney. And if you have concerns about the fate of a family pet after a divorce, your attorney should know that as well. Don’t be reluctant to bring up anything – your attorney works for you.
If one spouse can pay alimony and the other spouse needs it, a Florida court will usually order it. To determine the amount of alimony, the court may consider the standard of living established in the marriage, the resources and earning potential of the spouses, and also the length of the marriage. Florida courts are allowed to consider adultery as a factor when ordering – or denying – alimony payments.
Of course, if you are a parent, nothing is more important than your children and their well-being. In a divorce that involves children, a Florida court will always make the child’s best interests the top priority. Every child is valuable, and every family and child custody case is unique. Florida courts decide custody cases without regard to the gender of the parent or the child. The court will typically order the parents to share parental obligations unless that would not be in the child’s best interests. The courts in Florida use official state guidelines to determine the appropriate amount of child support, and non-custodial parents in most cases will make payments until the child reaches age 18. In Florida, court-ordered child support is enforced by the state’s Child Support Enforcement Bureau.
CAN COURT ORDERS BE CHANGED?
As circumstances change in the future, a court order regarding alimony, child custody, or child support may become unfair or may no longer be in the child’s or children’s best interests. Your divorce attorney can represent you in the future if you need to have a court order modified because of something like a relocation, a substantial income change or a job loss, a disabling injury, a jail or prison sentence, or a remarriage or new child.
Whenever you seek to divorce in Florida, whether it’s this tax season or any other time of the year, you must work with a trustworthy and experienced divorce attorney who makes certain that you are treated fairly. For the legal help you’ll need in a Florida divorce, meet first with an experienced divorce lawyer. Many choose to divorce during tax season, but you should only move ahead with a divorce when you are ready both emotionally and financially. An experienced and trustworthy Boca Raton divorce lawyer can help. If you are seeking a divorce south Florida, when you are ready, make the call.