What Platt Hopwood Russell & Cole PLLC want you to know before you file.
There is a common statistic that says, “Half of all marriages will end in divorce.” Though this statistic is no longer true – according to TIME, the real rate is around 39% – divorce is still prevalent, and it’s good to be prepared.
Florida is a no-fault divorce state. This means that one spouse can end a marriage if he or she believes it is irretrievably broken. Whether the divorce is born from violent and/or dangerous circumstances, financial problems or simply because the couple was married too young, it is important to know your rights.
Billie Jo Hopwood and Tiffani Cole of Platt Hopwood Russell & Cole PLLC stress that before filing, you should meet with a lawyer for a free consultation. During this consultation, you will get a better understanding of your rights, how to plan and what to think about before filing.
“People have consulted us in 2014 and didn’t hire us until 2016, trying to get their ducks in a row,” shared Hopwood.
So, what do you have to get in order? There are a few things.
1. Think about timesharing
Hopwood says that “Timesharing” is the new term for custody and visitation. Before filing, take into consideration your schedule, your spouse’s schedule and what’s best for your child(ren). She also reminded to think about any special needs or educational needs of your child(ren). It is also good to ask yourself: do you need to protect your child(ren) from your spouse? Have a plan in place to make sure your child(ren) is safe and has access to everything they may need.
2. Review your assets and debts
Whatever assets and debts are in existence as of the date of filing are what the court is going to look at during your trial. “You might be in a rush to file for a divorce because the other side has a lot of assets, or you might specifically slow down the process or not file because you have all the assets and want to make your moves accordingly,” said Cole. During your free consultation, you will get a better understanding of what you can expect and formulate a plan for how you will support yourself after divorce.
When looking at your assets and debts, there are some misconceptions that Hopwood wants you to be mindful of. Most people think that if the debt is not in their name, then they are not responsible for it. She shared that, if your spouse has been running up credit cards and accumulating debt, it is still marital debt. You also need to know that school debt/student loans are also considered marital debt. Before filing, you need to determine what is marital debt and what is not.
3. Look at your beneficiaries
Before filing, you may want to remove your spouse as the beneficiary of your life insurance or retirement plan. Hopwood shared that there is an administrative order that goes into effect that will not allow you to change beneficiaries once you have filed and begin the divorce process. So, if necessary, make sure you change things around before filing.
4. Do not sign anything
Hopwood and Cole emphasized that you should not sign anything – whether it be a formal contract or a sentence on a napkin – unless you have consulted a lawyer. They shared that anything you have signed can be used against you in court.
5. Understand the process might last more than a year
For cases filed as contested, the timeline for divorce can be long. Hopwood and Cole shared that the first thing you will do is exchange financial information so that both parties are aware of what the issues, debts and incomes are. Then, you will need to attend mediation. Unless you need emergency relief – for example, if your spouse took all your money and your water is cut off and you need them to pay immediately – a neutral third party will mediate between both parties. If both parties cannot come to an agreement during mediation, a court date will be requested and set anywhere from 8-12 months after mediation.
Though no one enters a marriage expecting a divorce, divorces can and do happen. It is important to be prepared and be knowledgeable, in case divorce becomes your only option.
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