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Divorce in Florida, COVID-19 Effects, Who Gets The House?

Divorce in Florida, COVID-19 Effects, Who Gets The House?

Real-Ativity January 26, 2021 15 hours ago
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The Divorce Rate COVID-19 Debate

The debate is still out on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on divorce in Florida.  According to the Institute for Family Studies, August 2020 divorce data shows filings have decreased by 19% from the previous year.  Although some argue it has brought many marriages closer, there is reason to suspect divorce rates in Florida will increase dramatically at the beginning of 2021.  Many couples have potentially postponed filing for divorce due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Intermittent periods of closures at courthouses and law firms, along with lockdown restrictions, have deterred people from filing for divorce during the pandemic.  If divorce is inevitable, it is in your best interest to get your home ready to sell now as the Florida real estate market is in your favor.

Divorce in Florida

This article will provide information on divorce in the state of Florida.  To begin, we will discuss the nitty-gritty factors that influence the division of the home.  Next, we will do a short discussion on assets and debts.  Finally, we will do a brief description of the different options for executing your divorce in Florida.  From utilizing attorneys to Pro-Se filing, it is essential to know which option will best suit your situation.

Who Gets the House?

Equitable Distribution Laws provide requirements on how the assets and debts get separated during a divorce in Florida.  All must be split equally, including the house.  Several sensitive areas need attention and negotiation for the balancing act to commence.  The behavior of each spouse during the marriage is reviewed.  The good, the bad, the ugly, all behaviors will be measured.  Throughout the marriage, the added value, and the value lost by each party are tallied.  These values added may include opportunities, primary parenting, increase in income, or any benefits or improvements provided for the entire family throughout the years married.  Values lost may include a lapse in career or education, a decrease in income, or a desecration of marital commitments.  When a behavior is assigned a monetary value, this can get tricky.  When children are involved, it is often best for the primary parent to keep the home and keep routines consistent.  In some instances, child support may be necessary to include in the balancing.  If either spouse has incurred liabilities during the marriage, those need noting.  If there has been any destruction of assets or manipulation on disclosure of debts and assets, this will all need to be considered.

alt text = "set of keys and tiny model home sit on a table with a woman and man behind signing divorce papers"

Assets and Debts

Assets gained throughout the marriage, either jointly or separately, are referred to as marital property.  To name a few, this can include insurance plans, stocks, profit shares, and retirement savings.  Equitable division only relates to marital property.  If the home was inherited or a gift, or if one spouse purchased it before marriage, it could be deemed nonmarital.  This could also include income from additional properties.  Debts are treated the same as assets and are to be divided equally.  However, the spouse who makes more money tends to receive more of the debt.  Placing a dollar value on certain items and identifying if a piece of property is nonmarital or marital can be tricky.  There are professionals you can hire to appraise items or determine the value of financial assets.  Properly executed Nuptial Agreements generally address all of the areas definitively.

alt text = "Florida divorce decision decided by judge" "gavel old books and scales on a wooden table"

Filing For Divorce in Florida 

There is no denying that loss of employment, lockdown restrictions, and school shifts to remote at-home learning have placed extra stress on marriages.  Some marriages were headed towards divorce before COVID-19, and the pandemic was the final push.  With emotions running high, it isn't easy to start these conversations.  However, prolonging the unavoidable will only hinder you and your spouse in the long run.  For divorce processing, referred to as dissolution of marriage in Florida, there are a few options for filing the paperwork.

  1. Attorney: Lawyer up!  Dealings, terms, and negotiations are done between lawyers.  The couples do not need to interact. In fact, they are generally advised not to.  This is a good option when behavioral misconduct has occurred during the marriage, particularly any form of abuse to which one of the party's safety is concerned.  It is also a good option for emotional couples who are not able to get along.  It is also best for complicated situations, such as when there are children involved, multiple assets or debts, or serious transgressions.
  2. Collaborative: Both parties have lawyers, and all four sign paperwork and commit to keeping it out of court.  Negotiations, agreements, and settlements are made between the four parties.  This is a great option for couples that are cordial but would like to cover all bases.  Total transparency is key to the success of the collaborative effort.  Spouses must disclose everything, including anything related to the distribution of assets and debts.  Remember, all four parties have to commit to staying out of court in writing.
  3.  Litigation: When all else fails, and neither party can agree, a judge decides the case.  It is wise to enlist a lawyer if the situation is complex enough to make it to court.  If warranted, each spouse can plead their cases by providing witnesses and evidence to argue any terms of the settlements.  This option is used in extreme situations.  It is costly and sloppy, so this option should be used if all else fails if all efforts have been exhausted.  The judge has the ultimate ruling on any decisions.
  4. Mediation: Conversations are made through a third party approved by both spouses.  The mediator is to be a vessel for communication between a couple to assist with taking the emotions out of it.  Often it is a lawyer or psychologist. However, they could be from many different careers, as long as they meet the qualifications to be a Certified Florida Mediator.  Unlike arbitration, where a group or person decides the verdict after presented evidence, a mediator does not make any decisions.  The mediator cannot advise either party, give an opinion, or have sway over anything.  The mediator is the objective, neutral ground, purely an unbiased third party to assist with communication.  The mediation option should end with mutually agreed-upon terms.
  5. Pro Se: This is a terrific option for couples with higher levels of communication skills.  Couples who are on exceptional terms and a proven track record of ability to discourse reasonably and respectively.  Couples file all the paperwork themselves.  This is a great option for couples who are savvy with paperwork and have less complicated situations.  Forms and filing information can be found on your county clerk's website, such as Palm Beach County Clerk.

Now Is The Time To Sell

Sometimes the couple may decide to sell the house and divide any earnings.  Or one party might buy the other out of their portion of the home. In Florida right now, the market still greatly favors the seller.  Homes are selling for much higher than market value and in a shorter period of time.  If the couple can keep the emotions out of it, be logical, and kind, this is something to keep in mind during the negotiations.  This hot seller's market is predicted to change soon.  Don't wait until you've filed the divorce if you plan to sell.  Now is the time.

Divorce in Florida, the Wrap Up

Under the best of circumstances, divorce is difficult.  Amidst a world pandemic, with emotions running on high voltage, it is even more challenging.  Throughout the marriage, all minuscule details must be considered when there is an asset such as a home involved.  Couples should assess their situation and logically decide the best option for executing the divorce.  As long as both parties can reasonably consider the circumstances, remove emotions, and take a logical approach, a win-win conclusion will prevail, where all parties involved are satisfied.

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