When I meet with couples for an initial consultation to discuss pre-suit divorce mediation and explain why that process is healthier and more affordable than traditional contested divorce litigation in the courts, one of the first things they want to know is what issues need to be addressed and resolved in connection with their divorce. While it goes without saying that every couple’s factual circumstances are unique, the issues can be boiled down to a few categories that are generally described below.
In Florida, the division of marital assets and liabilities is called equitable distribution, and nearly every divorcing couple will need to resolve this issue. Unlike some other states that follow the community property rule, in which everything is equally divided and distributed to the parties without regard to their circumstances, equitable distribution seeks to achieve a “fair” result. Equitable distribution should generally be decided first, because certain marital assets can be income-producing, and income is a factor that is used to determine some of the other issues that divorcing couples face.
The next issue to be determined is whether one of the parties is entitled to alimony payments from the other. Alimony can be a complex issue, as there are many variables that come into play, including but not limited to, the length of the marriage, the lifestyle maintained during the marriage, and each party’s income. There are also different types of alimony that serve different purposes and vary in duration. In general, however, alimony comes down to whether one party has the need for alimony, and if so, whether the other party has the ability to make such payments.
Lastly, if there were children born of the marriage that are still minors, the parties must address the issues impacting the children. One such issue is parental responsibility, which essentially involves a determination as to whether the parents will share in making major decisions involving the children, or whether one parent should be the primary decision-maker in this regard. Another issue is timesharing, formerly known as custody, in which the parents decide how they will share living arrangements with the children. Finally, child support payments must be calculated in accordance with the statutory formula, which is primarily based upon the parties’ incomes and the number of overnights each parent has with the children. These issues are always guided by the children’s best interest, and the court always has the authority to override decisions concerning the children if the judge feels they are not in the best interest of the children.
If the parties are unable to negotiate and resolve these issues on their own, a judge will make the final decisions after hearing the evidence at a final hearing or trial. One of the great advantages of pre-suit mediation as opposed to trial is the ability of the couple to make their own decisions, instead of surrendering control to a judge who is effectively a stranger to the parties and only sees a snapshot of the family’s circumstances.
Please contact Healthy Family Mediation Center at 239-529-3549 or www.healthyfamilymediation.com to learn more about these issues and why pre-suit mediation is the healthiest and most affordable option for couples facing divorce.