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From the Initial Filing to Final Judgment: How Long Does a Family Law Proceeding Take in Florida?

I get this question at every initial consultation. How long will the procedure last for?

Whether it be a
divorce proceeding, paternity proceeding, or a supplemental petition for modification, it all comes down to whether the parties can work together and find common ground. For example, a divorce can either be contested or uncontested. An uncontested divorce can be concluded in 3 to 4 months. On the other hand, a contested divorce can take anywhere between 12 and 24 months. Obviously, the amount of time will vary according to the court, the judge's calendar, and the determination of the parties to finalize the case. 

It is the desire of any person facing a family law case to close that chapter of their life, and to move on with their life as quickly as possible. However, Florida statutes and Florida Rules of Procedure strictly govern any family law proceeding. I will provide a general timeline for a divorce case. This guideline also applies for paternity cases and supplemental petitions. 

Uncontested Case:
As the name illustrates, an
uncontested divorce case is where the parties (Husband and Wife) have reached a full and complete agreement on every issue of the case. The issues that are sometimes brought up in divorce cases are: child support, time sharing, alimony, division of assets (including debts), etc. So what this means, both parties have to be in agreement in all of the issues and must cooperate with each other for their case to be considered uncontested. From the initial filing to final hearing, it can take anywhere between 3 to 4 months for the case to be finalized. 

Contested Case:
At the other end we have a
contested divorce case. As the name illustrates, a contested case is where the parties (Husband and Wife) are not in full and complete agreement on the issue(s). The parties are not in full and complete agreement when one or all of the issues remain unresolved. At this point, a judge will need to make a decision on the unresolved issue or unresolved issues after trial.  

The Typical Case:
The vast majority of the time, contested cases settled at mediation. Mediation is required in Florida, and is one of the “stops” on any contested family law case. If the parties settle all of their issues at mediation, then the parties avoid having a judge make a decision for them. 

Timeline of a Family Law/Divorce Case from Start to Finish:

In this scenario, Wife states that her marriage is irretrievably broken and wants a divorce. 

Initial Filing: During this stage of the case, Wife must gather and outline all of the issues to draft and complete the petition. Once the petition is completed, the petition will be filed with the court. 

Personal Service: During this stage, the Wife has to serve the petition to Husband with a summons. The timeline for service will depend mostly on the other party, the Husband. Some people try to avoid service, and they work very hard to hide from the process server. This stage can take anywhere from a week to a month to complete.  

Answer to the Petition/Counter-Petition: During this stage, Husband after being served with the summons and the Petition, Husband has 20 days to file an answer. In addition, to filing an answer, the Husband may file a counter-petition. A counter petition allows Husband to petition for something additional to or different to what was petitioned in the original petition (Wife’s petition). This stage will take 20 days after the Husband was served. 

Mandatory Disclosure: During this stage of the case, both parties, must exchange a specified set of financial documents. Some of the documents that must be exchanged are pay subs, tax returns, bank statement, etc. This process is called Mandatory Disclosure, and it is required and cannot be waived in contested cases. This stage will take 45 days from the date the petition was served on Husband; however, most of the time the deadline is extended by the parties. 

Parenting Class: Florida law requires that in any divorce proceeding that minor children are involve, the parents be required to take a four (4) parenting class. Usually the parenting class is completed at the beginning stages of the proceedings, before mediation. 

Mediation: Mediation takes place after Mandatory Disclosure. Florida courts require mediation, so mediation is mandatory. During this stage of the case, most contested cases come to a conclusion and completely settle. If the parties are successful in mediating, they must schedule and attend a final hearing. This stage will take about 4 to 6 months from the date the petition was served on Husband. If the parties are not successful in mediating all of the issues, the case continues. 

Deposition and Additional Discovery: When the parties are not successful in mediation that is a sign that the case is a high conflict one. During this stage, deposition will be done, request to produce will be ordered, interrogatories will be ordered, etc. This is a extremely good indicator that the case will be prolonged, and it will last longer than most divorce cases. This stage can be very time consuming and expensive for both parties. This stage can take 7 to 12 months from the date the petition was served on Husband.

Trial: The final stage of a family law case is trial. All the preparation that was done for the past year is for this day. Trial can range from half a day to a few days. To reach this stage, it can take anywhere from a year to a year and half from the date the petition was served on the Husband. 

In conclusion, how long does a divorce take in Florida will largely depend on the parties.  In addition to the parties, the natural life of a family law case will also depend on courts, procedures, and the judge’s schedule. 

If you are interested and need assistance with a family law or divorce case, contact The Herrero Law Firm, P.A. Contact the firm's office to arrange a free initial consultation. Attorney Herrero is also available to meet after hours by appointment only. We proudly serve the whole Tampa Bay area: Hillsborough County, Pasco County, New Tampa, Wesley Chapel, Dade City, Carrollwood, Temple Terrace, Zephyrhills, Brandon, Lutz, South Tampa, Plant City, Riverview, New Port Richey, Land O' Lakes and all the surrounding areas.