A lot of times, it may be easy to encounter a family law problem that makes you throw up your hands and say, “My situation is hopeless!” The reality is, though, it’s usually not. Very often, there are ways through or around your seemingly insurmountable barrier. Many times, it starts by retaining and working with the right South Florida divorce attorney who knows how to help you get where you want to be.
A Tampa rock-n-roll radio station’s giveaway contest and a divorce case from the Keys normally would have nothing in common, but recently one such contest and one such case had some overlapping aspects, and those aspects point to some important things about Florida law and complicated divorces.
The radio station contest in question promised to give the winning entrant a “free divorce,” with legal services provided by a local attorney.
A father of five from Pasco County told the station he had been separated from his wife for 18 years and had no idea regarding her whereabouts. The spouses’ two children were ages 22 and 20. The mother of the man’s three youngest children had been his partner for 17 years. She urgently desired to get married but the man felt powerless because he did not know how to divorce his long-lost wife.
This man’s dilemma might seem like an insurmountable problem. After all, in most cases, you have to give the court written proof that you served notice of your divorce and that your spouse received the notice.
There definitely is a way out for spouses like this man. In order to do this in Florida, you have to give your spouse notice using something called “service by publication.” This involves several steps. One is providing the court with an affidavit in which you swear that you do not know where your spouse is, that you made a diligent and good faith search to find your spouse’s whereabouts but that, despite that search, your spouse’s whereabouts remain unknown to you. Some courts may require you to prove you inquired with specific agencies, such as the Post Office, the DMV, the Department of Corrections, and the U.S. Armed Forces.
Another mandatory step is to publish notice of your divorce filing in the newspaper. Be aware that just any newspaper may not do. In Miami-Dade County, the court requires that you publish your “Notice of Dissolution” once a week for four weeks in a newspaper that “specializes in publishing classified legal advertisements.”
Once that hurdle is cleared, you can be on your way to a default judgment. After your hearing in court, the default judgment will state the specific details of your divorce, such as equitable distribution, child custody, alimony, child support, and so forth.
Even after you successfully complete service by publication and successfully obtain a default judgment, that may not always be the last word.
This is where the court ruling in that Keys divorce comes in. In that case, the wife obtained a default judgment, much like the Pasco County husband might eventually get. She got a default judgment that, among other things, gave sole parental responsibility for the couple’s five-year-old child to her.
In the husband’s appeal case, the appellate court said that the wife did everything properly in obtaining her default divorce and the trial judge did not err in granting the wife a judgment. What wasn’t allowed, however, was resolving the couple’s parental responsibility issue via a default judgment over the father’s objection.
Florida law says that the “best interest of the child” takes precedence. In parental responsibility matters, a parent – even one who has been properly defaulted – is entitled to an opportunity to “present evidence on issues related to the child.”
(Note that this kind of potential outcome would not be an issue if the Pasco County man got a default judgment of divorce, as the only children he shared with his wife were all over the age of 18.)
Cases like those involving a missing spouse are particularly complicated and involve an especially large array of detailed and specific procedural rules you must satisfy. In order words, cases like these reflect an especially high need for the involvement of an experienced divorce attorney. For that kind of knowledgeable representation, count on the skilled South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our attorneys have been helping Florida spouses for many years in dealing with their thorny divorce issues and getting the closure and results they need. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation today.