Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
Deciding to divorce can be a difficult process and one where both parties may want marital counseling, one spouse wants counseling, or neither spouse believes that counseling would help to rebuild the marriage. As a divorce lawyer in Jacksonville, Florida new clients often ask me whether marital counseling or family counseling is required before they divorce. I am also asked whether counseling will have an impact on the divorce. There are states that require spouses to attend counseling before moving forward with divorce, but Florida is not one of those states. However, while it is not required for filing the divorce, the judge may order family or marriage counseling as the case moves forward.
For example, if Allen filed for divorce from Beth, then the divorce proceedings have begun. However, Beth may respond to Allen’s petition for divorce and deny that the marriage is irretrievably broken. In Florida, for a divorce to be entered by the court, the judge must find that the marriage, in fact, is irretrievably broken. If Beth denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the case goes to trial, then Allen has to present evidence to prove the breakdown of the marriage. However, before it goes to trial, and probably soon after filing for divorce, Beth may file a motion with the court requesting that the judge order the parties to go to marriage counseling. At the hearing on the motion, the judge will listen to both sides as to whether there is reason to go to marriage counseling and then judge can order such compliance for a set period of time.
Once the judge enters an order requiring both parties to participate in marriage or family counseling, the divorce case is put on hold. The judge normally sets a reasonable timeframe for the parties to attend counseling to find out if the marriage can be retrieved. The stay on the case for that period of time is not to add delay to the case, but to let the parties work on their marriage instead of working towards their divorce. It also helps the parties so that attorney fees are not continuing to accrue during that time. The court and public policy mandates that the parties working on their marriage should not be taking steps to further their divorce proceedings at the same time.
After the time-frame for counseling has expired, if the parties reconcile during the counseling, then the case can be dismissed. If the parties attend counseling and then decide that there is no chance of reconciling, then the divorce will continue as planned. If the parties are not certain that they want to pursue the divorce and would like to continue counseling, then the court may extend the stay or hold on their case for another set period of time.
In a divorce consultation, if the client informs me that she or he feels that the marriage can be reconciled with counseling, then I generally advise that she or he speak the husband or wife and discuss counseling before proceeding with a divorce. If the spouse is not accepting of going to counseling prior to filing, then the court can always be asked to order participation.
If you are going through a divorce or other legal issue, then understanding your rights and options is important and you should speak with an experienced family law attorney.