Forget Divorce Court – Most Florida Divorces Never Make It To Court

Forget Divorce Court – Most Florida Divorces Never Make It To Court

Conjure up an image of divorce. The average person visualizes people sitting in a courtroom, giving testimony, with a judge at a bench presiding over everything. The reality of most divorces is dramatically different. Forget high profile, exciting confrontations in courtrooms built 50 years ago. The vast majority of divorces in Florida are relatively boring exchanges of paperwork and telephone calls.
In Florida, and in many states in the U.S., mediation is becoming a mandatory step. And mediation appears to work. Howard Iken, managing partner at The Divorce Center (www.18884mydivorce.com), a divorce law practice in the Tampa Bay region, observes over 90% of divorce cases settle by the time they get to mediation. Of the 10% that do not settle by mediation, approximately 9% settle some time before final trial. The bottom line is that approximately 1 out of 100 divorce cases go through the colorful confrontation that many people visualize. 99 out of 100 cases never make it to court.
Between the time a spouse files for divorce and the period most cases settle, the legal action consists of very boring paperwork, financial disclosure, punctuated by the occasional phone call. The process rarely varies and the paperwork in each case is similar if not the exact same. One spouse sends a petition, the other sends an answer. Each spouse exchanges financial affidavits, tax returns, paycheck stubs, and other types of documentation. The attorneys act as paperwork mills, churning and spinning out pounds of identical documents into the postal system. Other than copies of documents filed with the court, judges rarely get involved at this stage. All of the documents, legal pleadings, notices, and forms, are oriented toward getting to mediation, the final event in many divorces. If the parties settle at mediation, and the statistics show most do, one spouse will never see the inside of a courtroom. The other spouse usually attends a short, 10 minute hearing that is only a formality. A judge reviews the documents and signs off on the divorce.
“Hurry up and then wait,” divorce attorney Howard Iken tells his clients. Most cases consist of tons of paperwork creation followed by a long wait. The long wait is normally to allow the opposing party time to create and send a similar pile of paperwork. The process seems to work. The benefit: thousands of dollars in attorney fees are saved. Money that could pay for rebuilt lives is not diverted to the bank accounts of each attorney. Cases are brought to an early end. And each party to the divorce ends up having little or no contact with the court.