It is our firm philosophy that where case issues can be settled reasonably they should be, in order to save our clients from paying needless attorney’s fees and to minimize the emotional costs to the family. However, for a variety of reasons, some issues simply cannot be reasonably settled. When that is the case, our attorneys zealously advocate for the rights of our clients in court. Whether you are preparing for a divorce, a paternity action, or another type of family law proceeding, a traditional litigation approach may be necessary in your case. We are well-experienced in the litigation process and are ready to assist you.
Litigation involves the oversight of the court. Where the parties cannot agree on a given issue, a judge will make the decision for the parties. This can be a lengthy process, as there are many steps in a litigated case:
- Petition– In order to initiate a litigated case, a party must file a petition with the court requesting the relief they are seeking. The party who is served with such a petition must file a response within 20 days of service.
- Mandatory disclosure– Within 45 days of service of the petition, each party is required to provide to the other party a number of financial documents referred to as mandatory disclosure. These documents include tax returns, bank statements, deeds and other documents of a similar nature. Each party must also provide to the other a sworn financial affidavit, which lists their income, expenses, and the parties’ assets and liabilities.
- Discovery– Parties typically engage in discovery to obtain relevant documents and information beyond that provided as mandatory disclosure. This will typically be done through requests for production of documents from the opposing party, depositions of the opposing party and other relevant witnesses, and subpoenas to nonparties for relevant records.
- Retaining experts– For certain financial issues, experts are often retained by the parties to provide credible expert testimony in court. For example, an expert CPA may analyze one party’s income and the other party’s standard of living, and then testify with his or her opinion as to what alimony is appropriate under the circumstances. For children’s and parenting issues, a party may seek to have an expert such as a Guardian Ad Litem or Parenting Plan Evaluator appointed by the Court, in order to conduct an investigation and make recommendations to the Court on a Parenting Plan that is in the best interest of the children.
- Temporary relief– If there are issues that must be resolved on a temporary basis until the parties reach a final hearing, then a hearing on temporary issues may be necessary. Such temporary relief includes temporary timesharing and other temporary parenting issues, temporary alimony and child support, and temporary attorney’s fees.
- Mediation– The court typically requires the parties to attend mediation before a final hearing (and sometimes this is also required before temporary relief can be obtained). Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process where a neutral professional, the mediator, assists the parties and their attorneys in negotiating a settlement.
- Final hearing – If the parties are unable to settle the issues of the case, the parties will then attend a final hearing (trial). At the final hearing, the attorneys will present evidence to the judge in the form of witness testimony and documents, and will then make legal arguments to support their positions. Based on the evidence and arguments, the judge will make a ruling on the issues.
If you are facing potential litigation in a family law matter in the Tampa Bay area, we welcome you to contact us.