In many of my cases, clients will want to explain all of the reasons that they are seeking a divorce. While I will listen attentively, I ultimately have to remind them that Florida – like most states – is a “no-fault” divorce state. In practice, what that means is that the underlying reasons behind why a person is seeking a divorce will not be relevant in the courtroom.
Now there are some exceptions to this general no-fault rule, but in most instances the Court will not want to hear the reasons behind why your marriage has fallen apart; the Court’s only role in this regard is to confirm that the marriage is in fact irretrievably broken.
No-fault divorce stands for the idea that either party may seek a divorce without having to provide any reason other than that one of the spouses does not want to be married anymore. The spouse seeking the divorce simply needs to state that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” in their divorce petition and then affirm that again to the Court prior to the Court entering a Final Judgment. This can work as a way to simplify the divorce process, as it allows for a much more efficient and cost-effective divorce by eliminating the need to prove that one party may be at fault for the breakdown of a marriage.
Additionally, it can save the parties from litigating over what can sometimes be painful personal matters in a public arena and prevent parties from feeling they must present the other party as the “bad guy”.
Fault Can Be Argued During a No-Fault Divorce Case
It is important to understand, however, that just because Florida may be a no-fault state, that doesn’t mean that fault can’t be used or argued during a divorce case. In fact, ignoring the fault of one or both of the parties is a mistake that could potentially jeopardize your case. For example, if one party dissipates or wastes marital funds, or incurs debt without the other party’s knowledge, or mistreats the other spouse or children, these “faults” can have a dramatic effect on determinations of alimony, spousal support, distribution of the marital assets, and the terms of a potential parenting plan.
Consideration of Infidelity in Making Alimony Determinations
One of the more common reasons people seek divorces is due to infidelity – but in many cases, the Court will never hear evidence related to a cheating spouse. Infidelity will become relevant, however, if alimony or spousal support becomes an issue: for example, Florida Statute 61.08 specifically provides that the Court may consider the adultery of either spouse in making alimony determinations, including considering the circumstances surrounding the adultery of either spouse. This can include evidence related to the adultery itself – such as the length of the relationship – and the effect that the adultery has had on the marriage and your life in general – particularly if it has affected your professional life, income-earning ability, or overall mental health.
Bad Actions Can Affect Distribution of Assets
In addition, a party’s bad actions may also affect the distribution of the marital estate. Florida is an equitable distribution state, meaning the Court will decide financial-related issues based on overall fairness principles. Gifts, trips, apartment rent, car payments, expensive jewelry, and romantic dinners for a non-marital partner are all considered a waste of marital assets. If a party is shown to have wasted or depleted these assets, then the Court is well within its discretion to order that the one party receive an unequal distribution. Sometimes it may take the form of one party receiving more than half of the assets, such as a retirement or savings account, and sometimes it may take the form of the dissipating party having to be responsible for all or most of the marital debts.
How Effects of Parent’s Actions on Children Influence Parenting-Related Rulings
Another area in which the reasons for your divorce may become relevant would center around children and the effects the breakdown of the relationship may have had on the children. If you can tie in a parent’s bad behavior – including alcohol or substance abuse, infidelity, or other destructive behaviors that led to the filing of the divorce – into the parenting issues in your case, then the Court may in fact want to hear evidence related to those behaviors and the impact they’ve had on the children.
For example, if one parent is abusing drugs, or acting inappropriately with their new lover in the presence of the children, those issues would be relevant for the Court to consider in making parenting-related rulings – including time-sharing and parental decision-making determinations. If, however, you cannot tie a spouse’s bad behavior into having an effect on the children, then it it’s likely the Court would not consider such evidence presented by either party.
Attorney Russell J. Frank is a partner at CPLS, P.A. and focuses his practice areas on family and marital law. Contact Attorney Frank today at [email protected] to discuss any family or marital legal issues you may be experiencing.