Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
What are things that need to be considered when trying to reach a Florida divorce agreement? Many people think that a divorce is going to be ugly, no matter what they may do. However, as a divorce lawyer in Florida, I am often surprised by how many people come into my office with most everything agreed upon and just need the divorce papers formalized. However, often these people have discussed the main issues, like the marital home, but have forgotten other details, like retirement division. So, when you are trying to reach a divorce agreement, what are the things that you should both consider when separating your property, debts, and the like?
First, you will both be required to fill out a financial affidavit regardless of having consent agreement. Therefore, if may be helpful to start with a financial affidavit to actually see what income you have, what expenses you each have and what your actual debts and assets are. Once you have completed that document, it can be helpful to look over the other spouse’s to see what she/he may be claiming and what is marital versus non-marital. If it was purchased prior to the marriage, then it is marital. If it is a gift, typically the gift will stay with the receiving spouse. If something is an inheritance (with some exceptions) then it is most likely non-marital property/debt.
Next, make sure you actually understand your rights and options in a divorce. Though you may be able to reach an agreement, meeting with a lawyer together or separately can be helpful. You want to make certain that you both have a full understanding of what you are doing and how the transfer in ownership may impact loans, liability (vehicle liability can go as far as one party getting in an accident), taxes, etc. Not understanding these factors can be detrimental to your future after the divorce is final. Often, I tell people that if I would not operate on myself any sooner than I would get divorced without legal assistance. If you both share a lawyer, then you can get joint advice. However, it is important to know that a lawyer that meets with both spouses will most likely not be able to represent one of the spouses if negotiations go sour.
Know what you want. That is key, because dividing property, assets and debts can get confusing. If you are just wanting out of the marriage, then you may agree to accept more debt than usual. That is fine, but just know what your ultimate goal is. Also, it’s important to know what you are willing to negotiate on. In a true agreement, both parties normally walk away content, but not happy. It is important to know what your sticking points will be.
Remember, that anything purchased or accumulated during the marriage, with some exceptions, is marital. Therefore, marital debts, assets, including retirement are fair game for division. However, the entitlement is not to the full amounts, if some was accumulated prior to marriage, only the portion obtained during the marriage should be divided. If you want to go outside of the normal parameters, then that can be an option, if both parties agree (i.e. college tuition for children is not normally addressed by the court, but can be in an agreement for divorce).
Remember to seek an experienced lawyer‘s assistance even if you are in agreement, because the cost for doing things incorrectly can be more costly to you later. In many cases, correcting something that was not addressed in an agreement costs about two to three times more in legal fees that what you would have initially paid.