Tampa Divorce Attorneys
Serving Clients Throughout Central FL
Divorce is often an overwhelming event. As you deal with the emotional turmoil, it can be easy to lose track of important legal and financial concerns. At Sessums Law Group, P.A. we work hard to safeguard your interests and help you start a new phase of your life on a strong foundation.
Attorney Mark A. Sessums is one of only four Florida attorneys Florida Bar board-certified in Trial Law, Marital and Family Law. He and the rest of our dedicated Tampa divorce lawyers provide personalized representation to clients on issues that range from property division to child custody to spousal support, and more.
The Requirements for a Divorce in Florida
To file for a divorce in Florida, at least one spouse must have resided in the state for a minimum of six months.
There are two grounds for divorce in Florida, and neither requires proof of marital misconduct. Most petitioners file by asserting that the marriage is irretrievably broken, which means there is no chance of reconciling the parties. Alternatively, one spouse may file for divorce if the other has become mentally incapacitated.
3 Types of Divorce in Florida
There are three types of divorce Floridians can choose from, depending on their circumstances and how many unresolved legal and financial issues there may be:
- If you have no minor children and can agree on dividing assets and debts, simplified divorce is an option.
- In an uncontested divorce, when you and your spouse are able to reach a consensus on all terms, you can present an agreement to the court for approval, saving you the cost and stress of trial.
- In a contested divorce, where you can’t agree on important issues, your divorce will be adjudicated in court.
Our experienced Tampa divorce attorneys will guide you through the process, from filing or answering the initial Complaint to reaching a marital settlement agreement on custody, property, and support issues--or proceeding to trial when those or other issues can’t be settled.
The property division in a Florida divorce is governed by the principle of equitable distribution. In a nutshell, this means that property must be divided equitably between spouses. However, equitable is not the same as equal. Equitable distribution does not require a 50/50 split of all property. It simply mandates that the ultimate property division be fair.
What’s fair? That’s something that is in the eye of the beholder. In the event a settlement dispute goes to court, that beholder would be a family law judge. What spouses need is an attorney with negotiating savvy and courtroom skills to help articulate their definition of fairness.
Furthermore, it bears noting that equitable distribution only applies to marital property. This is the property that is owned together by the spouses. Separate property—that which belongs exclusively to one spouse—is not a part of equitable distribution discussions.
The distinction between marital property and separate property can seem simple—marital property is, with only a small handful of exceptions, property that was acquired after the wedding date. Separate property is what each spouse brought into the marriage.
In practice, this simple principle can get complicated. For example, who gets the house in a Florida divorce? If the couple bought the house after the marriage, it’s marital property. Either the spouse that doesn’t get the house must be treated equitably somewhere else in the settlement, or the home must be sold and the proceeds shared.
What if one spouse owned the home prior to the wedding? Then it’s separate property and reverts to that spouse, but even here, there are potential complications. If improvements were made after the marriage, those were done with funds that were marital property—meaning any increase in value is, therefore, also marital property.
The same principle applies to everything from stocks to 401(k) funds to anything else that may appreciate in value over time. Clients need to know their lawyer understands what issues to raise and questions to ask in the quest for an equitable settlement.
Our goal is to help our clients secure settlements through negotiation or mediation. We use collaborative family law as a means of doing that. However, with our strong track record, we’re confident in going to trial when that’s what our client wants, and that’s what it takes to get fair treatment in a settlement.
Who Gets the Kids in a Florida Divorce?
The spouses must address all facets of child-raising in their settlement discussions. Everything from where the children will live, to who will have decision-making authority in important aspects of their lives, to how child support payments will work, needs to be settled.
For a non-custodial parent, visitation schedules must be worked out. These schedules should be as detailed as possible. It’s not uncommon for spouses to specifically designate where the children will spend Christmas, birthdays, Thanksgiving, and other important holidays. Spouses can reach terms for taking the children on vacations.
These issues can be difficult to work out, even if circumstances were ideal---which, of course, they are not. Facilitating discussion on this and other contentious topics is another way that collaborative mediation may help.
What About Alimony?
Each spouse has the right to life in the manner they were accustomed to prior to the divorce—or, if that isn’t possible, it’s expected that each spouse will share in any decline in living standards. Furthermore, Florida law values all contributions to a marriage equally. Some of those contributions—notably the raising of children and caring for elderly parents—might not have produced income, but they are no less important in the eyes of the law. The goal of spousal support (alimony) is to protect the lower-earning spouse from disproportionate financial hardship after the divorce.
If a disagreement over maintenance has to go to court, the judge will likely consider these factors:
- The length of the marriage
- The age of the spouses
- The health of the spouses
- The income available to each spouse
- The standard of living that was enjoyed during the marriage
- The parenting responsibilities of each spouse after the divorce
- The time it will take for the lower-earning spouse to effectively ramp up a new career
- Any other factor the judge considers relevant can also be introduced
Our Tampa divorce lawyers, backed up by decades of experience, have a keen understanding of issues that should be brought to the court’s attention.
We Stand With Hurting People
Divorce is often painful, no matter the circumstances. It’s the closing of a chapter of someone’s life, and that is rarely easy. We can’t relieve personal pain, as much as we want to. What we can do is help hurting spouses by advocating for their interests and giving them peace of mind that their legal and financial affairs are in good hands.
There has never been a day, were he hasn’t responded to an email or text by the end of the day (usually within an hour). His grasp of the law and legal system is unbelievable, he remembers details of my case like no other.- Chris L.
They care deeply about making sure that they understand the needs of their clients and then do everything they can to achieve those goals. I can’t recommend Mark and his team highly enough.- Sean D.
Highly recommended for strong written and oral communication, in-depth knowledge of the law, and a practical, no-nonsense approach. If divorce is pending, this is the team you want.- Kristan H.
I came to Mark Sessums when I realized it had become necessary to replace my previous attorney. I found myself in a totally different atmosphere…one of genuine compassion, utmost respect, and legal brilliance.- Beverly L.
I had a very difficult and toxic divorce case and Mark and his team handled everything FAST and Professional.- Jason D.
Best lawyers available, Alamo amber is amazing!- TJ D.
Mark came highly recommended. He is very polite, respectful and proficient. I felt very confident he was always looking out for my best interest. Mark took care of an issue who was annoying and aggravating and brought it to an end.- Carolynne A.
I truly felt as if she cared just as much as I did about my case and my family. After having a lawyer like her advocate and fight for me the way she did I wouldn't want anyone else.- Brandy R.