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Few situations in life can cause as much stress as family law matters. At the Law Office of Pamela J. Helton, P.A., the priority is always to provide knowledgeable and effective legal representation, but client's are often overwhelmed by unfamiliar terminology, processes and situations. Educating clients beforehand on terminology and the "typical" process involved in resolving their type of case has been very effective at reducing some of these unnecessary stress factors. Please read below and feel free to continue educating yourself as your case unfolds.


  1. Step one: Set an initial consultation to discuss your case with an attorney. Often it is prudent and necessary to do some pre-dissolution planning to protect assets and income.

  2. Step two: Retain an attorney to represent you in your divorce case. Being the first (as apposed to your spouse) to file the divorce with the Clerk of Court has advantages.

  3. Step three: The process of divorce officially begins when the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed with the Clerk of Court. This document lets the Court know that you intend to dissolve your marriage. Other documents are filed on your behalf as well which are all public record. The Petition will lay out some initial factors of the divorce. Petitions are not final and frequently ask for lots of things (sort of a wish-list) in the divorce. Important note: If you are the spouse to receive the Petition, you or preferably your attorney must respond to the Courts within twenty (20) days. Hire an attorney as soon as possible after being served. Your attorney will need to review and prepare an adequate response based on your best interests and goals. A Counter-Petition is more than likely necessary to protect your rights.

  4. Step four: Once you file the original Petition with the Clerk of Court, your spouse must be served with a copy of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and all initial documents. The term "served" refers to a sheriff or process server hand-delivering the documents to your spouse. If you have children, this is also where arrangements need to be made to attend a court-ordered parenting class. Please see your attorney for more information regarding these courses.

  5. Step five: Mandatory Disclosure is required to be filed with the Courts. Florida Law requires both parties to disclose or show the Courts all their financial circumstances. A document called a "Financial Affidavit" is filed with the Clerk of Court that includes detailed information regarding income, expenses, liabilities and assets. It may be necessary for you to provide copies of tax returns, bank statements, retirement accounts, etc. so start gathering your documents early. Your attorney should provide you with a list. When your attorney requests information, there usually isn't a lot of time to waste. It helps to get this type of stuff together ahead of time and be prepared.

  6. Step six: Your attorney will begin the "Discovery" process. This is where attorneys look for a complete rendering of all assets and liabilities, so be honest and upfront with your attorney. They need to know all the details. You don't want your attorney to eventually be caught in Court with the other side firing "new" information. The discovery process is also the collection of lots of different types of information besides financial. They will then prepare such documents as a Subpoena, Request for Production, Interrogatories, etc. A Subpoena is a legal document requiring someone to either appear in Court as a witness or to produce some type of information (Example: Spouses employment records directly from employer). A Request for Production is a list of specific documents that you are requesting from your spouse (Example: Tax Returns, copies of checks, older financial information, etc.); additional items you feel may help your case. Interrogatories are (simply said) a list of questions that you want the court to order your spouse to answer.

  7. Step seven: Mediation is scheduled. Not every case goes to mediation, but it is typically a first intervention to work out unresolved issues. Judges don't want to make all the decisions of your divorce for you. They would prefer you work out as many of your own differences as possible on your own and in mediation. Asking a Judge to make decisions regarding the circumstances of your case should be seen as a last resort. In a mediation, both parties sit down with an unbiased mediator who looks over the details of the situation and works with both parties to try and resolve some or all of the areas of conflict. If an agreement can be reached, both parties sign an agreement which is filed in the Courthouse and enforced by Florida Law. Whatever agreements you sign in Mediation are typically final and the Courts will enforce them. Both attorneys will be present as well to make sure each client is given what is "fair" according to Florida Law. If you are able to resolve all issues at mediation, you'll skip to step ten and typically be scheduled for a Final Hearing in 3-6 months. If not settled, cases typically go to step eight and/or nine.

  8. Step eight: Case Management Conferences are short hearings where the Judge takes a look at the overall progress of the divorce. They ensure everything is in order and ready for a hearing or trial. Few major decisions are made at the conferences and they serve more as an introduction for the judge since there is a lot of information in each case.

  9. Step nine: By this stage of the case, your attorney will narrow in on areas that are still unresolved (if any). Various different types of Motions will be filed and sent to your spouse's attorney (or spouse if they don't have an attorney). The types of Motions are numerous depending on the circumstances of the case but a few examples would be asking for temporary child support, temporary alimony, Attorney's fees, etc). Hearings may be held on each Motion, if necessary, in which the Judge will make a ruling on each individual matter.

  10. Step ten: Hopefully by this point, your case will be ready to schedule for a final hearing in which all issues are finalized and your divorce is brought to a conclusion. The attorney will prepare and file a Final Judgment with the Clerk of Court and you'll officially be divorced.

  11. Step eleven: In certain cases, the issues are too complex and require a full-blown trial. Trials have their own set of circumstances and the Attorney will advise you on steps to take to prepare for trial. ​

Most people want to know how long the entire process will take from start to finish and the answer is complicated. Obviously, the more simple the circumstances are in your case, the less amount of time required to solve it. The average length of time for a divorce is between 5-6 months from start to finish, but some are less and some are longer. Your attorney can advise you more of a timeframe based on case specifics.   This information serves as a general outline and description for a divorce in the state of Florida. Cases do not always follow this exact order. Every case is unique. It is my hope that you'll use this information to gain some basic understanding of the process and also gain some understanding of the legal terminology used in family law. I wish you all the best in your situation. If I can be of assistance to you, please call my office at 352-243-9991 or fill out and submit the form under the Contact tab and someone will contact you shortly.

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