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The Process of Divorce in Lakeland

By Saunders Law Group on October 20, 2015


After agonizing times and much thought, one spouse in a marriage decides that the marriage is not working out and wants a divorce in Lakeland. How is that process started? Should you be the one to file for divorce or should you let the other spouse file? These questions and many more are asked literally hundreds if not thousands of times a day when one person in a marriage decides that the marriage is over.

Should I Be the One to File for Divorce in Lakeland?

In some areas of the law, particular in the civil litigation arena (personal injury, business disputes, etc.), there is a strategic advantage to being the person who files the lawsuit. For example, a Plaintiff in civil litigation bears the burden of proof and thus procedurally the Plaintiff puts on his or her case first and has an opportunity to present further evidence once the defense rests. This can be a distinct advantage for the Plaintiff.

Divorce presents a different type of litigation invoking different powers of the Court. In a divorce case, there is usually little—if any—strategic advantage to being the party that files first. Because divorce invokes the “equity” side of the court system (i.e. that side of the court that deals with “fairness”) as opposed to the “law” side of the court system (i.e. that side of the court that applies given laws to a set of facts regardless of the fairness of the outcome), each party to a divorce can be confident that they will have a full and fair opportunity to present the court with all necessary facts and evidence.

The only real advantage in filing first is just that: the actual filing for divorce. Many people for a variety of reasons do not want to be the one who “asked” for the divorce and they hold off filing for divorce even though the marriage is not working. Someone has to file for divorce and, if the marriage is over, getting it filed is the obvious first step in starting life anew.

What Must I Do to File for Divorce in Lakeland?

The divorce process is started by filing a lawsuit, called a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage”. In that Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, the party filing for divorce must plead certain things such as: (A) the fact that the person filing for divorce has lived in the State of Florida for 6 months before the actual filing of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and (B) the fact that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” (meaning that the marriage is over with no likelihood of reconciliation).

If there is property involved that must be divided, this initial Petition for Dissolution of Marriage also requests that the Court divide the assets and liabilities of the marriage between the spouses.

If children are involved, the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage asks the Court for a determination of how the parties should divide their time with the children (called a “Parenting Plan”) and also requests that child support be calculated.

Finally, if the party filing for divorce in Lakeland seeks any type of spousal support or alimony, that request is set out in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.

The actual Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is a fairly standard pleading customized for each client’s actual situation. A Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is fairly simple to prepare if the client has all of the pertinent information at hand such as addresses of the other spouse, children’s birth dates and social security numbers, etc.

Once finalized, the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed with the Court and then it is served on the other spouse.

Serving the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage

The Sheriff of each County is authorized by statute to serve divorce papers on your spouse. The Lakeland Sheriff has a charge for this service which is generally minimal but the Sheriff is understandably unable to initiate a search for your spouse in order to serve him or her. You must provide the Sheriff with an address for the spouse and a time when that spouse will be at that address in order to help with serving your spouse.

Another factor to consider is that the Sheriff’s principal obligation is the investigation of crimes and the prevention of harm to citizens. Serving divorce papers is an understandably lower priority for the Sheriff’s Office when compared to other duties. It therefore sometimes takes what may seem like a long time to serve the spouse if you use the Sheriff’s Office.

An alternative to have the divorce papers served by an authorized private process server. Each county in Florida maintains a list of private process servers who are authorized to serve divorce papers on the other spouse. Typically, charges for private process servers run about $50.00 if the address of the other spouse is known and a time when that spouse will be at that address is provided. The benefit to using a private process server is principally the speed of the service of the divorce papers as private process servers dedicate their day to serving such documents on parties involved in divorces or other litigation matters.

Once the other party has been properly served with the divorce papers, that spouse has 20 days to file a response to the divorce paperwork served on him or her.

How Much Does It Cost to File for Divorce in Lakeland?

The Clerk of the Court in the county in which you file the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage charges a set fee for filing the case in the court system.

The filing fee must be paid in order to have the case filed at all. Clerks of Court will not file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage without payment.

The amount of payment varies slightly throughout Florida but as a general rule, $450.00 is a fair estimate of the filing fee currently being charged. This filing fee is on top of monies paid to serve the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and is on top of any charges by the Lakeland lawyer for preparing the necessary paperwork that is being filed.

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