Today we are taking the opportunity to address some of the questions we hear most frequently about divorce. As a divorce involves every area of your life, it is only natural for there to be all kinds of questions about it. We anticipate this being an ongoing series as there are plenty of questions to answer. If you don’t find the answer to your specific question here, please click here to schedule a consultation with us today so that we can help.
Are divorce papers public?
Answer: Usually yes. While this can vary from state to state, Florida has a broad public records policy. A divorce is a legal action which goes through the court system, which means anything filed in a divorce is public record unless some portion of a document is redacted (because it contains sensitive information) or if the matter is sealed by the court at its conclusion. One of the many benefits of a collaborative divorce is the minimal number of legal filings required to obtain a divorce—typically even the settlement agreement is excluded from the court record. If privacy is your primary concern, consider a collaborative divorce.
How long will a divorce take?
Answer: This depends on many different factors. A litigated divorce typically takes the longest because the adversarial process adds many steps to a divorce. In a litigated divorce, communications often go through both attorneys, which can substantially increase the time it takes to resolve any issue. For example, if Client A is having trouble with an issue related to soccer camp, he brings it up to his attorney, who then contacts Client B’s attorney to address the issue. Client B’s attorney then contacts Client B to discuss it directly, before then reaching back out to Client A’s attorney to relay the gist of the conversation. Client A’s attorney then contacts Client A to let them know the results of the communication attempts. Between scheduling issues, missed phone calls, email delays, etc., it can take weeks to resolve an issue that would take Client A and Client B ten minutes to fix if they discussed it themselves. As you can imagine, it is common for litigation divorces to have lots of random issues like this come up, all of which act to slow down the process.
Additionally, any time the court becomes involved in resolving a dispute, everyone is bound to that judge’s schedule. If the judge doesn’t have time for a hearing for two months, which is not uncommon at all depending on the judge and the jurisdiction, then everything is slowed down and delayed.
All of this is to say that litigation divorces, depending on things like the number and complexity of issues, the attorneys involved, the court’s calendar, etc., can easily take well over a year to obtain a final judgment, so it is important that you plan accordingly, both financially and mentally.
A collaborative divorce, however, tends to move much faster than a litigated divorce. Communications tend to be more efficient as everyone works toward a common goal, even if they are not always in agreement about how to get to that goal. The Collaborative team meetings are agenda-driven and very focused. As such, more can be accomplished with less time. Finally, the faster clients are in obtaining the various financial documents needed to understand the family’s picture and build options, the faster the matter can be resolved. When all is said and done, the vast majority of collaborative divorces resolve within a year of beginning, with many resolving in under six months. If the time it takes to divorce is your top priority, then consider a collaborative divorce.
Can a divorce settlement be reopened?
Answer: With a few exceptions, probably not. Most divorces resolve with a Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”), not a trial. The Agreement may be reached before attorneys are involved, at or after mediation, or even the night before a trial. But the fact is most divorces end with an MSA that the couple agrees to, often reluctantly. A settlement agreement is supposed to provide a family with finality and understanding when it comes to the terms of their divorce.
The two most common ways an MSA is reopened is to modify either child support, or alimony, or both. Child support is always modifiable so long as the statutory requirements are met. Alimony is modifiable under certain circumstances, so long as the right to modify it has not been waived in the MSA.
Otherwise, short of evidence of fraud, duress, or material misrepresentation of fact, reopening an MSA is going to be highly unlikely, if not impossible. If you are unhappy with the terms of the MSA you signed, there is not much to be done about it. This is why it is extremely important that you a) speak to an attorney before you sign an MSA, regardless of who drafted it; b) make sure you understand the specific terms and conditions of the MSA (if you have questions, the time to ask is before you sign it and your attorney should ensure that you understand what is being explained); and c) take the time to contemplate the MSA and make sure you are comfortable enough with it to sign it (don’t rush on anyone else’s behalf—this is your life and your future).
Divorces are full of nuances and complicated decisions. This is why it is important that you speak to an attorney who will help you understand the law and your options, not someone who will simply quote a statute at you and expect you to fully understand something attorneys go to law school to be able to grasp. At Artemis Family Law Group, we pride ourselves on making the law as accessible to clients as possible. If you don’t understand something, then our job is not finished. Please click here to schedule a consultation at your convenience.