Back in April, Florida was considered to be a highly stressed-out state, according to a statistical study by a personal finance website called Wallethub that was noted at the time by the Times-Union’s Jacksonville.com. Among the factors that contributed significantly to the stress level for Floridians, according to this report, was Florida’s high divorce rate. One month later, USA Today reported that if married people in the United States respond to the stresses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in the same way that married people in other areas of the world have responded, the divorce rate can be expected to increase.
For Florida residents, the basic requirements for obtaining a divorce are relatively straightforward. A Florida divorce is available as long as one or both of the spouses has resided within Florida for at least six months. Under Florida law, couples seeking a divorce do not have to have specific “grounds” for divorce. Instead, they need simply to have an irretrievably broken marriage.
Generally, where both parties are in agreement in seeking the divorce, the key matters that need to be ironed out before a divorce can be finalized are the division of the couple’s assets and arrangements for spousal support and, if there are children of the marriage, child custody and support. A significant factor that will inform how quickly a divorce can be granted is when and whether the parties can resolve these key matters. If they cannot, court hearings may be required.
Virtual Hearings in Divorce Cases
In addition to its potential impact on the divorce rate in Florida, the COVID-19 pandemic has also led to shutdowns and slowdowns in the Florida state court system. Given the already high rate of divorce in Florida, along with the anticipated uptick in divorces being sought as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the backlog in the courts could ordinarily cause concern for couples interested in speeding along the process.
The Supreme Court of Florida is trying to ameliorate this concern by providing for virtual hearings in divorce cases. The court issued an order in May that has provided for these hearings. Under this order, chief judges were directed to use technology in order to allow for the judicial proceedings to continue throughout all phases of the state’s designated recovery phases from COVID-19.
According to the court’s website, allowing virtual hearings represents a major shift in the way in which proceedings in Florida state courts have historically been conducted. As is the case in many if not most state and federal courts in the country, in-person proceedings have traditionally been the norm. Now, the Florida Supreme Court is looking towards continuing to make changes in procedures, including allowing for virtual proceedings, that will benefit people relying on the justice system going forward, even after the pandemic is over, including couples seeking to divorce.
If you, or you and your spouse, are considering the possibility of divorce at this time, there are probably many questions and concerns that you have about proceeding through the legal system. If you would like to speak with an experienced Brandon, Florida divorce attorney, contact TBLC, the Tampa Bay Legal Center.