After considering the differences between a contested and uncontested divorce you and your spouse have decided to go the route of the uncontested divorce. This means that any and all of issues surrounding division of marital property, and spousal support (alimony) have been decided. If there are minor children of the marriage, then issues surrounding the children including timesharing (who has the kids when), parental responsibility (who makes decisions regarding how the children are raised), and child support have been worked out.
If you and your spouse have agreed on all of these issues then you are to be congratulated. This is the hardest part of a divorce proceeding, and a lot of time, money, and emotional energy can be spent figuring these issues out. The decision to resolve your divorce early, amicably, and fairly is often the best choice for the clients. It doesn’t generate the mountain of legal fees of a contested divorce. With the negotiations out of the way, all that is left is to prepare the paperwork and get everything finalized.
I am a family law and divorce lawyer located in Venice, Florida, and I routinely assist parties with uncontested divorces in Sarasota, Charlotte, and Manatee County. The purpose of this article is to explain the process of an uncontested divorce. I will specifically be discussing the nuances to an uncontested divorce in Sarasota County, but a majority of this article will apply to the entire State of Florida.
Initial Considerations When Hiring a Lawyer
The first point to understand about hiring a lawyer to handle an uncontested divorce is that the lawyer cannot represent both parties. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, but lawyers have a fiduciary duty to a singular client and they cannot represent both sides of a transaction. I often receive calls from potential clients that want to bring their spouse to the initial consultation. I can’t do that – even if the parties have fully agreed on all issues and it is uncontested.
Even after the initial consultation I cannot provide the other party with legal advice. I can talk with the other side (and that’s usually the first thing I do), but I cannot give them legal advice. The only advice I can give them is that they have a right to hire their own lawyer.
This may initially seem to throw a wrench in an otherwise non-adversarial process. After all, one party has a lawyer now, and the other party does not. I do my best to work with the other side on my disputes, whether it is a hotly contested matter, or an uncontested matter. I do that because it is typically in the best interests of my clients. Still, I am bound by Florida law and the rules governing lawyers.
Preparing the Paperwork
After discussing the matter thoroughly with the client, and reaching out to the other spouse to confirm this is something they are interested in proceeding with, I then draft a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA). This is the document that governs all of the issues of the divorce (except for cases with minor children; most issues involving minor children are governed by a second document called a Parenting Plan).
After preparing the MSA and making sure the client is comfortable with it, I forward the agreement to the other spouse (or their lawyer, if they choose to hire one) for their review. At that point they are free to agree to review the agreement, and seek legal advice from their own lawyer if they wish. If the agreement is satisfactory, then I prepare the remaining documents for the divorce.
The remaining documents for an uncontested divorce without children include the Petition, Answer, Notice of Social Security Number, Financial Affidavit, Judgment, and Special Interrogatories. If the divorce includes children then a Parenting Plan, Child Support Guidelines Worksheet, and UCCJEA Affidavit need to be prepared. Both parties also need to take a parenting course if children are involved.
The judges in Sarasota County have recently switched to requiring both parties in all divorce cases to complete Financial Affidavits, and to have those Financial Affidavits filed with the Court. In the past judges were not so stringent with this requirement, but as of the time of the publication of this article Financial Affidavits are required for all divorce cases in Sarasota County.
Financial Affidavits require disclosure of all the income, expenses, assets, and liabilities of the individual completing the affidavit. If the person completing the affidavit makes less than $50,000 a year, then they can complete a Short Form Financial Affidavit. IF the person makes more than $50,000 a year, then they must complete a Long Form Financial Affidavit.
If the parties are absolutely dead set on not completing Financial Affidavits, then they can get around this requirement by undergoing a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage. A Simplified Dissolution of Marriage is a special divorce process that requires both parties to execute the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, and requires both parties to attend a final hearing (this requirement cannot be waived for a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage).
Special Interrogatories vs. a Final Hearing
It used to be that in order to finalize a divorce the parties needed to attend a hearing in Court prior to the judge finalizing the divorce. The judges in Sarasota County have recently (within the past year or so) permitted the use of a document called Special Interrogatories, if one of the parties was represented by an attorney.
Special Interrogatories are an affidavit completed by the Petitioner that can be mailed to the judge and replace a final hearing. This essentially allows the parties to perform a “mail away” divorce. Special Interrogatories are great because they don’t require the parties to go to Court (saving both time and money), and they allow for divorces to be completed faster. Typically, hearings are scheduled at least a month out. Special Interrogatories can be turned around by a judge in as little as 3 business days. Typically, I tell clients that they take a week or two.
How Long Does an Uncontested Divorce Take?
I have completed uncontested divorces in as little as two weeks. That is from initial consultation to a signed Final Judgment. I can’t promise results, and certainly can’t promise that I will get your divorce done within two weeks, but if the parties are motivated, the matter is truly uncontested, and if everyone works quickly and professionally, it is very possible to get an uncontested divorce done in a few weeks.
I do this routinely, and I derive tremendous satisfaction from quickly completing an uncontested divorce.
How Much Does and Uncontested Divorce Cost?
The question of “How much will this cost?” often comes up very early in my conversations with potential clients seeking an uncontested divorce. It’s an important question. Obviously I cannot speak for all lawyers, but I offer a flat fee of $1,500 for the most basic of uncontested divorces (without children). Divorces with children start at a flat fee of $2,000. These flat fees include the $400 filing fee.
If there are complicated issues, more substantial negotiation, or additional work involved (e.g., the preparation of a deed or other ancillary documents), then there is an additional charge for these additional services.
Uncontested Divorces – Final Thoughts
I hope this article has been useful in explaining uncontested divorces and how the process specifically works in Sarasota County. Uncontested divorces won’t be a viable option for every divorcing couple, but if they are an option then they can be the best way to quickly bring closure to a difficult situation.
If you are interested in discussing your uncontested divorce in Sarasota, Manatee, or Charlotte County with me, then please feel free to call my office at (941) 882-4367 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.