COMPASSIONATE GUIDANCE AND FIERCE ADVOCACY BY DIVORCE ATTORNEY IN TAMPA FLORIDA
Helping You Navigate the Divorce Process in Tampa
The breakdown of a marriage is one of the most emotionally painful experiences a person can go through. At a time when it feels as if your life has been turned upside down, the last thing you probably want to deal with is the hassle of legal paperwork, negotiations, and courtroom drama.
In the weeks and months ahead, you and your spouse will need to confront and resolve many important family issues, including how to divide your property and allocate your debts, whether or not alimony will be paid (and if so, in what amount), establishing a child custody arrangement, and more.
The decisions made in a divorce proceeding will impact your life for years to come. Having a caring, supportive and competent divorce attorney by your side will prove to be of enormous benefit as you endeavor to close a chapter of your life and begin a new one.
Shazia Sparkman is committed to making sure the process goes as smoothly and quickly as possible and at the lowest cost. In most cases, couples want to avoid a contentious divorce battle and achieve a peaceful resolution. Ms. Sparkman is a strong negotiator who knows how to build compromise where disputes exist. She often encourages couples to attempt alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation or collaborative divorce before going to court.
When an amicable parting of ways is not possible, Attorney Sparkman will fight aggressively
to protect your interests. She understands that the stakes can get high in a divorce, especially if there are children involved. As a highly skilled litigator, she won’t ever hesitant to vigorously defend you in court.
Safeguarding Your Financial Interests
The end of a marriage also means the end of a financial partnership. The process of disentangling yourself from a joint financial arrangement can be tricky and often contentious.
The Sparkman Law Firm has the resource capability and skill to represent individuals who have modest to low-assets to complex high-net worth assets and diverse financial portfolios. We are well-versed in Florida’s property division and business valuation laws and will strive to help you retain what is rightfully yours.
Here are some of the ways we can assist you during the property division process:
- Identify Marital vs. Non-Marital (separate property)
- Work with appraisers, accountants, actuaries, business valuation experts, and other specialists to gauge the fair value of your property
- Help you understand the tax implications of acquiring a particular asset
- Uncovering hidden assets
- Calculate fair alimony or spousal maintenance payments
Zealous Protector of Your Parental Rights
As a parent, you value the time you spend with your children as well as the relationship and bond you’ve developed with them over the years. Now that the family unit is breaking up, you may be worried or feel threatened that your parental rights could be in jeopardy.
The family law courts in Hillsborough County and across Florida encourage parents to work together to make decisions that are in the best interests of their children. In a divorce, you and your spouse will be required to present the court with a plan detailing where your children will live and how you will co-parent going forward. Failure to reach compromise means that a judge who knows nothing about your family will make decisions about how much time you can spend with your child.
At the Sparkman Law Group, we will advocate for your interests through mediation, settlement negotiations, or if necessary, by taking the custody matter to trial. Divorce Attorney Shazia Sparkman is dedicated to preserving and protecting the relationships you have with your children while doing everything she can to minimize any adverse effects the process may have on their well-being.
She is prepared to assist with the following in a divorce involving children:
- Child Support
- Child Custody and Time Sharing
- Parenting Plans
- Parental Relocation Disputes
- Temporary Relief Orders
- Modification of custody, visitation, or child support orders if there is a change in circumstances after divorce
Divorce Requirements and Grounds for Divorce
In order to legally terminate your marriage in Florida, you or your spouse must have resided in the state for at least six months. If you meet the residency requirement, you can proceed with filing a divorce petition. Florida is a no-fault divorce state which means you do not need to prove that any wrongdoing led to the breakdown of your marriage. All that is needed to pursue a divorce is to state that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
There are two different ways to file for a divorce in Florida: a simplified petition for the dissolution of marriage (uncontested) and a traditional petition for dissolution of marriage (contested). Tampa residents file their divorce petitions with the Clerk of the Court
in the Hillsborough County Court located at 800 E. Twiggs Street.
The current filing fee for filing a divorce in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit (Hillsborough County) is $410.
Simplified or Uncontested Divorce
In a simplified dissolution of marriage or uncontested divorce, you and your spouse are in mutual agreement about how to resolve the issues in your marriage. This is an amicable approach to divorce which ultimately saves you time, money, and unnecessary stress. By reaching an out-of-court settlement, you have control over the outcome and don’t have to let your future be decided by a judge.
Attorney Sparkman can assist you and your spouse with filing a joint petition for simplified dissolution of marriage with the Clerk of the Court. She can draft a settlement agreement that incorporates financial affidavits and outlines instructions for property division and submit to court for approval. To finalize the divorce, you and your spouse must attend a final hearing.
Depending on the judge’s backlog, an uncontested divorce can be finalized in as little as a month, or as long as three months.
In order to take advantage of a simplified divorce, you must meet the following criteria
- You or your spouse have lived in the State of Florida for the last six months
- You and your spouse agree to the division of all assets and liabilities
- You have no children under the age of 18 or adopted children under the age of 18
- Neither party is seeking alimony
Traditional Dissolution of Marriage or Contested Divorce
For some divorcing couples, the tension is so great and the animosity is so high that any kind of compromise just isn’t possible. When no agreement can be reached on the key issues, a judge will decide your future. It is worth noting however that although some divorces begin as contested, there are opportunities to reach common ground through mandatory mediation. A typical contested divorce can take 4-6 months to be heard and last for a year or more.
Filing of Petition
To initiate a contested divorce proceeding, Attorney Sparkman can prepare and file a Petition
Dissolution of Marriage with the Clerk of the Court at the Hillsborough County Court. The petition will list all the relevant issues you plan to address in the divorce such as asset division, debt allocation, child custody of minor children, alimony and/or child support.
Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Dependent or Minor Child(ren)
Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Property but No Dependent or Minor Child(ren)
Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with No Dependent or Minor Child(ren) or Property
Case Management Conference Scheduled
The Hillsborough County Clerk automatically schedules a mandatory case management conference to be held in front of a judge approximately 90 days from the date of the filing.
The court signs an order requiring you to attend and sets forth a number of steps that need be completed before the conference, including: completing and exchanging financial affidavits and mandatory disclosure documents, completion of a parenting class and child support guidelines worksheet.
Serve Spouse With Petition
Once all the paperwork is filed, your spouse must be served with a copy of the divorce complaint along with the summons. This can be done by a sheriff or private process server. Your spouse has 20 days to file a response with the court. The response can be to accept the terms outlined in the original petition or he/she can respond with their own counter-claims. If your spouse does not respond by the deadline, you may request a default to be entered which allows you to proceed without your spouse’s involvement.
As you go through the divorce process, you may find it necessary to ask the court to order short term solutions for certain disputes. For example, you may need to establish a temporary custody arrangement and timesharing schedule or seek temporary alimony to support you financially while the divorce is pending.
Temporary orders or pendente lite motions can be filed after your spouse responds to the petition.
Mandatory Disclosure of Financial Information
Within 45 days of serving your petition, you and your spouse will be required to complete and exchange financial affidavits or sworn statements which discloses all income, assets, expenses and liabilities in your marriage. This mandatory and full disclosure of financial information enables you and your spouse to get an accurate picture of one another’s financial situation and can serve as the basis or foundation for determining property division, alimony, and child support.
If your individual gross income is $50,000 OR MORE per year, you would use the long form financial affidavit: http://www.flcourts.org/core/fileparse.php/293/urlt/902c.pdf
If your gross annual income is less than $50,000, you would use the short form financial affidavit http://www.flcourts.org/core/fileparse.php/293/urlt/902b.pdf
Documents that you will most likely be required to exchange includes but is not limited to:
- List of assets and debts
- Inventory list of family possessions and household expenditures
- Bank statements
- Income statements
- Tax Returns
- Credit Card statements
Property Division Laws in Florida
The process of dividing property in a traditional Florida divorce involves categorizing assets and liabilities as marital or non-marital, assigning monetary value to each property item, and deciding how to allocate these assets.
Marital property includes all of the income, assets and debts you and your spouse amassed during the time you were married. Marital property is considered jointly owned regardless of how the property is titled.
Marital property may include:
- Real estate/Marital Home
- Bank accounts
- Home furnishings
- Valuables, collectibles, memorabilia
- Compensation plans — life insurance policies, retirement plans, pensions, stock options, brokerage accounts
- Club memberships
- Travel reward points
- Intellectual property
Non-marital property or separate property is anything you owned before your marriage or during your marriage that was not “co-mingled” such as through inheritance or as a gift.
Who Gets the Marital Home?
One of the major assets in a divorce is the family residence. Distribution of the home depends on the specific circumstances of your case. If you have children and are considered the primary residential parent, then the home would most likely be awarded to you so that the kids have a sense of stability. Another option is to sell the home and divide the proceeds.
If you and your spouse cannot reach consensus on how to divide your property, the court will intervene and decide for you. Florida operates under the law of “equitable distribution” which means that property is to be divided equally in a divorce. While the law begins with the presumption of a 50/50 split, the court endeavors to be fair and balanced and will consider certain factors when awarding property, including but not limited to:
- the contribution of each spouse to the marriage;
- the length of the marriage;
- the contribution of one spouse to the career or education of the other;
- the efforts of each spouse to generate income, to increase the value of assets and/or to accumulate debt
What To Expect in a Divorce With Children
The family law court in Tampa is gender neutral and in favor of both parents remaining fully present and engaged in their children’s lives (unless it’s detrimental to the children in some way) after a divorce. To reflect this co-parenting philosophy, Florida laws now refers to “custody” and “visitation” as “parental responsibility” and “time-sharing.”
The Florida court generally believes that it is in the best interest of the children to have parents share parental responsibility and equal time-sharing. In other words, both parents should have the opportunity to maintain frequent and continuing contact with their children and share in the caretaking and decision-making responsibilities involved in their upbringing.
What is in a Tampa Parenting Plan?
Florida law requires parents to create a parenting plan and submit it to the court for approval. This plan is meant to serve as a roadmap for how you will divide child-rearing duties after the divorce. Most parenting plans…
- specify time-sharing schedule that includes overnights and holidays that each child will spend with each parent;
- indicate how each parent will communicate with the children when they are with the other parent;
- provide guidelines for decisions related to healthcare, education, religion, extracurricular activities
Ideally, you and your spouse will be able to successfully work together to establish a timesharing arrangement and parenting plan, otherwise the timesharing schedule will be established by the Court. The court weighs the following factors when deciding what is in the best interests of the children
- Nature of the relationship between each parent and children
- Physical and mental health of each parent
- Work schedule and financial resources of each parent
- Evidence or history of domestic violence, abuse, or neglect
- Preference of children
- The stability of the child’s current situation and the desirability of maintaining continuity
As a parent, you are financially responsible for your minor children until they turn 18 or get married, or become deceased. In Florida, child support is calculated based on the state’s child support guidelines. The court will review the information you and your spouse provided in your financial affidavits to determine your net income. The net income is inserted into the child support guidelines worksheet, and calculations are made based on a formula that factors in…
- number of children you have
- cost of health Insurance and medical expenses
- day care costs
- the number of overnight stays the children spends with each parent
- extracurricular activities
Alimony or Spousal Support Laws in Tampa
Financial security is a huge concern for couples in a divorce, especially in marriages where there was only one wage earner in the household. Whether you plan on seeking alimony or spousal support or anticipate having to pay your spouse, Attorney Sparkman can advocate for a fair and reasonable payment amount.
The court looks at several factors when considering whether or not to award alimony or spousal support in a divorce, some of which include
- One spouse’s need versus the other spouse’s ability to pay
- Financial resources of each spouse including assets and liabilities
- Length of marriage
- Standard of living established during marriage
- Responsibility each spouse will have in regards to raising minor children
- Contribution of each spouse to the marriage — homemaking, childcare, education, supporting someone’s career, etc.
Types of Alimony
Alimony is a monetary payment from one spouse to the other over a predetermined period of time or indefinitely. Listed below are the different types of alimony available in Tampa
- Bridge-the Gap Alimony — temporary financial assistance (cannot exceed two years) meant to help the recipient spouse make the transition and adjust to their new living status as a single person.
- Rehabilitative Alimony — awarded to help the recipient spouse become more self-sufficient and earn a living. Support may include paying for redevelopment of old skills or acquiring new education for new profession.
- Permanent Periodic Alimony — most often awarded in long-term marriages (18+ years) to help the recipient spouse maintain same standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. This type of alimony can be paid as a lump sum and expires upon the death of either spouse or the remarriage of recipient spouse
- Durational Alimony — payment awarded for a specific number of months or years and cannot exceed length of marriage