A contested divorce is the most unpredictable and costly legal process of dissolution of a marriage. It can last from six months to a year or even more, devastating the couples’ budget more and more with each new hearing.
The court recognizes the case as contested when the spouses can not agree on one or all of the divorce terms related to property division, payments, or children. In this case, the parties involved entrust the final decision on controversial issues to the authorized judge.
Let’s look at the main aspects of a contested divorce in Florida that affect the cost and length of the dissolution procedure.
Contested Divorce With Children
The average divorce with children in Florida costs $20,300, including legal fees, attorney’s fees, and parenting course fees. However, spouses should remember that the actual cost of a divorce depends on the length of the process.
Child custody is the most obvious stumbling block during divorce with children. The judge may need several hearings to decide on the children’s welfare.
Decisions about children include legal and physical custody, child support, and visitations. Sometimes the court can also oblige parents to take parenting courses. Otherwise, they will not make a final decision.
Since the issue of child custody includes many aspects that require attention, it needs a lot of effort and time. In addition, witnesses and other evidence may be involved in the case if, for example, there was child abuse and cruelty.
Florida courts do not give preference to the specific gender of a parent when granting custody. Therefore, either parent can become a sole custodian parent, or they will have joint custody.
In Florida, judges encourage parents to resolve the above issues out of court. Therefore, the court usually approves the parenting plan provided by the spouses if it is in the child’s best interests. However, if the parents can not resolve contentious child-related issues, the court may decide for them.
Another alternative way to resolve child custody is using mediation. Even if the couple has taken the matter to court, the judge may order the couple to seek a mediator’s advice.
Court-connected mediation in Florida costs $60 per person per session if a couple’s annual income is less than $50,000 or $120 per person per session if the income is more than $50,000 but less than $100,000.
If mediation does not work, the court will make a final decision based on Family Law.
A Florida court will decide on child custody in court after evaluating the following factors:
- each parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs;
- each parent’s willingness to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent;
- each parent’s moral fitness;
- each parent’s physical and mental health;
- each parent’s ability to provide the child with a consistent routine
- child’s adjustment to home and community;
- the geographic viability of the parenting plan, precisely the amount of travel it would take to honor the time-sharing schedule;
- the reasonable preference of the child;
- each parent’s ability to provide a safe and stable environment for the child;
- the child’s developmental age, needs, and abilities;
- evidence of domestic violence, if any; and
- any other relevant factor.
Concerning child support, both parents are required to pay a certain amount of money to meet the demands and needs of the child. In addition, under Florida law, parents can not waive child support obligations.
The court determines the amount of child support following the Florida child support law and the Florida Child Support Guidelines. The payment amount is calculated based on the monthly net income of both parents and the number of children they have together. The judge also considers the child’s educational, dental, medical, and psychological needs.
Contested Divorce Without Children
The average cost of divorce without children in Florida is $13,500. However, this amount may increase if the spouses have long-term disagreements regarding the property division and debts. The couple may need to hire a real estate assessor ($400-700 per unit), forensic accountant ($300 to $500 per hour), or other professional.
Initiating a contested divorce without children requires the same steps as an uncontested case. In addition, the petitioner must complete and file the Petition and Summons with the district court. Besides, spouses may also need to complete additional forms depending on the case specifics and the couple’s financial capacity.
When the petitioner files the initial divorce papers, they must pay filing fees. The fees filing in Florida vary from $350 to $410, depending on the county. If the petitioner has financial difficulties, they may complete the Application For Determination Of Civil Indigent Status to waive payment.
The petitioner needs to serve the respondent as soon as the court accepts the divorce documents and payment. If the respondent disagrees with the divorce terms, they must file a response within 20 days of the service date, or the petitioner will receive a default judgment of divorce.
The divorce becomes contested when the court receives an answer disputing separation terms, and legal proceedings begin. It will last until all issues are resolved. If the spouses disagree with the judge’s final order, they can appeal after finalized divorce proceedings.
Contested Divorce: Attorney Cost
Attorney fees make up the bulk of the total divorce cost. They are directly related to the length of the dissolution process.
In Florida, the average divorce lawyer charges between $260 and $330 per hour. However, in some cases, the fee can reach up to $795, depending on the attorney’s experience and state taxes.
To reduce divorce costs, spouses may hire paralegals to handle small errands, such as selecting and filling out divorce papers. Paralegals get from $81 to $100 per hour for their work.
Contested Divorce Online
Online divorce is an affordable and fast way to prepare ready-to-sign divorce papers in the comfort of your home. Usually, the services of online divorce companies start from $139.
However, if you are offered to prepare legal forms for less than $100, they are most likely scammers. The extremely low price is a red flag that the platform provides blank forms that you can download for free on the court’s website.
Online divorce is easy to use and provides clues at every step. Spouses usually only need to complete the online questionnaire and provide the necessary information about their marriage and divorce terms.
Online divorce helps spouses generate legal forms under the latest state requirements, customized for the case. In addition, the platform ensures that spouses do not miss any of the required documents.
While most online divorce companies only provide services for uncontested cases, some platforms also specialize in contested divorces. They can provide users with additional legal services like online attorney’s advice.
However, it is better to resolve all disputes out of court. So the spouses can save their time and money and prepare divorce papers online.