Finding a family lawyer that has the ability to effectively handle your specific legal issue can seem like a daunting task. However, there are many resources available in Miami, FL which have been designed to simplify the process and lead you to the attorney whose specialization best fits your specific legal needs.
Whether you are seeking a legal aid organization which performs services free of charge or a private practitioner, the following information may guide you to the resources necessary to get you on track to finding the family lawyer that is right for you.
Consulting with a Prospective Family Attorney in Miami
When beginning the process of finding a family lawyer, the first step is to understand what exactly your needs are as they relate to your specific legal issue. Generally, the more complex your legal needs are, the more likely it is that you will need to hire an attorney. For example, you may be able to handle a simple, uncontested divorce without attorney representation. However, if you are seeking permanent alimony or you anticipate your spouse to contest your divorce claim, the benefits of hiring an attorney increase accordingly. The same general rule applies to the cost of attorney representation. Thus, obtaining an uncontested divorce will likely cost much less than the costs associated with a highly contested divorce with marital children and substantial marital property involved. Florida law does require that all attorney fees must be reasonable in proportion to the services performed. However, other factors may affect the amount of attorney’s fees charged such as:
- the time and labor necessary to complete the job
- the novelty and complexity of the legal issues involved
- the lawyer’s level of skill employed to address the issue
- the probability that your legal issue will prevent the lawyer from taking other fee-earning work
- the customary fee charged in the legal industry for the specific type of work
- the amount of potential recovery
- the amount of time available to complete the job
- the results of the case
- the nature and duration of the relationship with your lawyer
- the lawyer’s level of experience and competence
If the fee is not a flat rate, you may expect to pay $100-300 per hour based on the above criteria (at least in part). Note: Florida law does not allow contingent fee agreements in divorce cases. Thus, you may be expected to pay attorney’s fees in advance of the finalization of a divorce.
Depending on your needs, it is important to ask a prospective family lawyer preliminary questions regarding their experience with handling your type of divorce, such as: how long they have been handling your type of issue and at what rate of success, what professional certifications or licenses the attorney has relating to your issue (e.g. family law certification from a bar association), is the attorney also a mediator, what safeguards will be put in place to protect your privacy, whether their Florida law license is in good standing, how attorney’s fees will be calculated, and when the fees will be charged. Note: attorney ethics records can be checked by the public on the Florida Bar Association’s website: floridabar.org.
Family Attorney Services Offered
Family lawyers perform a wide range of services relating to many different types of legal issues. Some examples of these services may include, filing of divorce petitions, divorce procedure, annulment, filing injunctions, drafting property distribution agreements and spousal support/parenting plans, alimony modifications, and advocating for child custody, among others. Divorce lawyers may also represent you in court. This is a service that may be particularly important when testifying during a divorce proceeding.
I. Where to File
Being that every marriage is licensed by the state in which the marriage happened, the only way to negate a legal marriage is by state intervention in court. This process is called a divorce or dissolution of marriage. As states have control or jurisdiction, divorces are not decided in federal court. As a general rule, a divorce case is usually within the control of the circuit court (civil trial court). This court is located in the county where the couple last lived as a married couple or in the county in which the spouse who is not seeking the divorce lives at the time of the divorce.
II. Out of State Divorces
If the spouse who is not seeking the divorce is not a Florida resident, the divorce may be heard in any state. Florida does recognize (otherwise called full faith and credit) divorces which occur in other states, provided that the divorce was performed legally or if the out of state divorce has some effect on property located in Florida. States do not have to recognize marriages which happened outside of the United States (foreign marriages), but Florida will typically recognize a foreign divorce if certain conditions are satisfied. The US military considers divorce to be a civil matter to be decided in civilian court. So, the divorce process for service members is the same. However, if one spouse is deployed at the time that a divorce action is commenced, the court may prolong the final decision until such time the court finds appropriate to enter a judgment.
III. Divorce vs. Legal Separation
In Florida, a divorce must be a complete severance which totally ends the legal relationship between spouses. In other words, legal separation does not end a legitimate marriage that is recognized by the state. A spouse may hire a divorce attorney to represent them throughout the divorce process, at the spouse’s own expense. Many law firms and divorce lawyers also provide free consultations for Florida divorces. But, the state of Florida does not provide attorneys at no cost for family law cases. A law firm or lawyer is not allowed to represent both spouses who are seeking dissolution of marriage.
Divorce is also completely different from annulment which only cancels a marriage which was never legal to begin with. For example, if one spouse is already married before and at the time of marrying another person. This type of marriage is voidable, and it may be annulled based on the existence of a previous marriage. Florida divorce law allows marriage annulments for other reasons like, mental incapacity, incest, age (being under the minimum age to marry), impotence, intoxication, fraud, duress, and/or lack of intent to marry. Consummation of the marriage does not prevent the marriage from being annulled or voided.
IV. Beginning the Divorce Process
A divorce begins when one spouse files a petition for dissolution of marriage with the court in which they are seeking to obtain a divorce. There is a Florida residency requirement which says that at least one spouse must have been living in Florida for at least six months before the divorce can begin. Although, this is not to say that one spouse must be physically present in Florida for the entire six months. If the spouse(s) did not live in Florida for the entire six months, the court is allowed to consider any spouse’s intent to permanently reside in Florida, and the reason(s) why they were not present in the state. Florida residency may be proven by presenting a government identification (e.g. driver’s license or voter registration card) or by the testimony of a witness.
V. Grounds for Divorce
Florida recognizes two major types of grounds for divorce. The first and most common reason is when a court finds that the marriage is irretrievably broken. When a marriage is declared to be irretrievably broken, it means that the marriage has become so dysfunctional that it cannot be recovered. As a matter of public policy, Florida and all other states have abolished the at-fault standard of divorce which declares one party to be more or less the cause of the divorce, in favor of the irretrievably broken standard. A court may order the couple to go to marriage counseling to try to determine if the marriage is in fact irretrievably broken.
In all cases, at least one spouse must testify in support of the marriage being broken. But, it is important to note that even if the court finds that the cause of the marital dysfunction is the result of a condition that may be cured, the court may still declare the marriage to be irretrievably broken. For instance, a marital counselor may determine that one spouse is suffering from treatable depression, and that depression is the cause of related marital dysfunction. This finding in and of itself, may not necessarily prevent a court from declaring a marriage irretrievably broken. However, the spouses may both agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken. In these cases, if the court finds evidence that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the court must grant a divorce as required by law. The occurrence of domestic violence within the marriage may also be a reason for the court to find a marriage irretrievably broken.
The other major reason for divorce in Florida is what is called incapacity. Incapacity means that one spouse has been legally declared to be mentally incompetent for at least three years before the start of the divorce. A spouse who has been deemed to lack the mental capacity to be married may also submit a petition to divorce through their guardian. In these cases, the court must determine that the spouse who does have capacity has not contributed to the failure of the marriage in some way. The only defense available to prevent this type of divorce is to deny the accusation of misconduct and present evidence to support the denial. In the absence of a denial, the court will enter a final judgment of dissolution.
Once a court grants a divorce, the spouses will no longer receive the rights enjoyed by married persons, such as certain tax protections. The next question that is usually to be decided when determining the final marital settlement is how the marital assets and debts of the spouses will be divided. This process begins with each spouse submitting a financial affidavit to the court which discloses financial information relating to each spouse’s assets and debts. This financial disclosure may include bank statements and tax returns.
VI. Property Distribution in Florida
If the spouses do not agree to their own set of property settlement terms, the state of Florida will divide marital property according to a part of the divorce process known as equitable distribution. This term can be misleading because the name implies a 50/50 split of the spouses’ property. However, this is not the case for the majority of divorce settlements. What equitable distribution actually means is that after each spouse discloses all of their assets and debts to the court, it will then be distributed according to what is in the best interest for each spouse to receive, given the circumstances of their individual situations. If you anticipate your spouse to contest some aspect of your divorce, this may dramatically increase your need to hire a competent family attorney.
Finding a Divorce Lawyer in Miami
As previously mentioned, there are many resources available to aid you in your search for the right family attorney. For instance, the Florida Bar Association maintains an index of all attorneys licensed to practice law in Florida on their website: https://www.floridabar.org/directories/find-mbr/
This index allows you to search for an attorney based on certain criteria such as geography, types of law practiced, languages spoken, and services offered. Also, the following organizations and their contact information may be useful when looking to resolve your family/divorce matter:
Miami-Dade County Courthouse
73 W Flagler St
Miami, FL 33130
Dade Legal Aid
123 NW 1st Avenue
Miami, FL 33128
Florida Family Law Clinic
1380 NE Miami Gardens Dr #205a
Miami, FL 33179
Florida Legal Services
3000 Biscayne Blvd. #102
Miami, FL 33137