The Pleadings Stage
A copy of the Petition, along with the summons, must be served on your spouse. Usually this is done by a sheriff’s deputy or a private process server, who physically hands the papers to your spouse and informs them of the contents. Your spouse then has 20 days to file a response to the Petition. If they largely agree with your allegations in the Petition, they will generally file an Answer to the Petition. If they disagree in some way, they will generally file an Answer and a Counter Petition.
The counter petition operates just like the original Petition. Your spouse then has the opportunity to explain to the Court how they would like the case to end up, which is usually in a different place than you had intended. You must file a response to the Counter Petition within 20 days. How the case proceeds from here, the “close of pleadings” stage, depends on how your spouse responds during the pleadings stage. If the two of you are in agreement, then the case may be resolved as an uncontested divorce by a signed, written agreement that is adopted by the Court. Florida is a “no fault divorce” state. The two parties can negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement that covers all the bases, so to speak, and puts everything in writing in terms of how the Court will determine the issues of your case.
The Negotiation Stage
On the other hand, if your spouse and you are unable to agree on the issues in your case, it will head down the path of a contested divorce. The parties will both file financial affidavits and produce certain required financial information (known as “mandatory disclosure”). The next step in the process is to attend mediation. Mediation is an informal settlement conference conducted by a neutral third party, called the mediator. The process is confidential and all settlements are voluntary.
The Discovery Stage
If the case does not settle at mediation, then additional “discovery” will continue until the case is set for trial. Discovery is the process that attorneys use to “discover” the facts on which the other party is relying. There are several different forms of discovery that may or may not be used, depending on the issues of your case. Determining each party’s income is always important and in some cases the court may impute income to one or both spouses.