The Law Office of Christopher S. O'Keefe, P.A.

For the benefit of our clients we have breifly outlined some of the terms used in Divorce and Family law cases below. This is written in layman's terms, if you would like more information on Divorce and Family Law contact our office today.

Divorce also known as Dissolution of Marriage

In Florida, divorce is known as dissolution of marriage. Divorce is a serious and emotional decision. By definition divorce is simply the termination of marriage. For the people going through it divorce may be very difficult emotionally and financially. The legal problems arising from divorce have to do with what should happen after the marriage is over and the two spouses begin their lives apart. There are many complex and serious issues that arise from filing a divorce. Some of the issues that you may face in your divorce action may include parental responsibility, time-sharing, child support, alimony, equitable distribution of assets and debts, tax issues, and other serious issues.

Florida is a no fault divorce state. The ground for filing for divorce in Florida is to allege that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”. In essence, this means that the parties no longer want to be married and the marriage is over. In order to file for a divorce in Florida, one of the spouses must live continuously in the State of Florida for six (6) months.

There are two different forms of divorce in Florida. The first is called an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce is where both spouses agree to every issue in their divorce case. The parties will have every condition and term written in the marital settlement agreement. After the marital settlement agreement is completed the divorce will expeditiously proceed to final judgment and the parties will be divorced. An uncontested divorce can save time, money and emotional stress. The other type of divorce is referred to as a contested divorce. In a contested divorce, the spouses are usually arguing over certain aspects in their case such as parental responsibility, time-sharing, child support, alimony and equitable distribution. A contested divorce will ultimately require mediation. If the parties cannot settle thier case at mediation the parties will proceed to a trial for a Judge to make a final ruling in thier case.

Parental Responsibility

In Florida, parental responsibility is a term that essentially means the rights and responsibilities that a parent will have with respect to his/her child. In Florida there are three types of parental responsibility that a Court can award shared parental responsibility, shared parental responsibility with ultimate decision making, and sole parental responsibility.

In Florida, the statutory presumption is that parents will have shared parental responsibility. Shared parental responsibility means a court-ordered relationship in which both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child and in which both parents confer with each other so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly. There are numerous issues that the parties will have to make regarding the minor child such as education, religion, health and welfare that the parties will have to discuss and agree to.

If the Court determines that the parties are unable to agree and make joint decision in the best interest of the minor child then the Court may award Shared Parental Responsibility with Ultimate Decision Making to one parent. This essentially means that the parties are to discuss the issues that affect the minor child. If the parties cannot agree on the best course of action then one parent may have the ultimate decision making authority.

The last form of parental responsibility is sole parental responsibility. Sole parental responsibility is defined as a court-ordered relationship in which one parent makes decisions regarding the minor child.

Florida law provides that parental responsibility should be shared by both parents unless the Judge sees credible evidence that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child. Florida Statute 61.13(2)(c)(2) states: “The court shall order that the parental responsibility for a minor child be shared by both parents unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.

Child Custody known as Timesharing

In Florida, child custody is now known as timesharing. Timesharing is the legal term that Florida recently created to describe the amount of time that each parent spends with a child following a divorce.  The Florida statue replaces the terms custody or visitation with the term timesharing.

In divorce cases no family law issue generates more concern, strife and emotional turmoil than timesharing. The Court bases its decision regarding timesharing with the best interest of the child in mind. In a dissolution proceeding, the court will attempt to determine which parent the child should be placed with and what contact the child should have with each parent. There are many different types of timesharing plans that a Court may impose. There are 20 different factors that the Court will evaluate when deciding a time-sharing plan for the parties and the minor child.  

Child Support

Child support refers to the amount of money that the court orders a non-custodial parent, or the parent with whom the child does not live with the majority of time, to pay the other parent every month for the support, education, and care of their children. The non-custodial parent is usually responsible for contributing a certain portion of his or her income to help support the child until the child turns 18. There are many different factors when calculating child support such as gross income of the parties, health care expenses for the minor child and the parties, day care cost and other factors that are included into a child support calculation.


When a married couple gets a divorce, a family court judge may order one spouse to make monthly support payments to the other, based either on an agreement between the couple or a decision by the court itself.

Alimony Types

There are six different types of alimony in Florida: permanent alimony, durational alimony, rehabilitative alimony, bridge-the-gap alimony, temporary alimony and lump sum alimony. Each type of alimony serves a different purpose. A general summary of each type of alimony is included below. It is important to understand that many factors influence whether alimony will be awarded by the Court. The information contained herein should be considered only as general information and not specific advice as to any particular case.

Permanent Alimony

The theory behind permanent alimony in Florida is to allow a spouse who has not worked (or has lower income or lower earning potential) to continue to live in the same standard of living as enjoyed during the marriage. Permanent alimony is more likely to be awarded in a long term marriage (defined as a marriage greater than 17 years in length). Permanent alimony in Florida can be awarded in medium length marriages (defined as marriages of 7 years but less than 17 years). In medium length marriages, the greater the length of the marriage and the greater the disparity of income influence whether permanent alimony is awarded. In exceptional circumstances, permanent alimony can be awarded in short term marriages (defined as a marriage of less than 7 years). This is very rare and usually only happens when one spouse has been seriously injured or has come down with an incurable disease that does not allow them to support themselves. There must be a showing by the party seeking permanent alimony in Florida that the other party has the ability to pay the alimony amount requested.

Rehabilitative Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony in Florida is more typically awarded in medium length marriages and short term marriages. Rehabilitative alimony may be awarded to assist a party in establishing the capacity for self-support through either: the redevelopment of previous skills or credentials; or the acquisition of education, training, or work experience necessary to develop appropriate employment skills or credentials. The party who is seeking rehabilitative alimony has to show the court a specific and defined plan of rehabilitation (such as attendance at college or vocational training). Often the rehabilitative claim is made by a party who has given up their education or job to raise children and now needs support so they can finish or reestablish themselves in the workforce with education and/or training.

Durational Alimony

Durational alimony may be awarded when permanent periodic alimony is inappropriate. The purpose of durational alimony in Florida is to provide a party with economic assistance for a set period of time following a marriage of short or moderate duration. A key principal of durational alimony is that the party seeking durational alimony does not have to have to present a rehabilitative plan. Until durational alimony in Florida came into existence, the judge had to decide between permanent alimony or rehabilitative alimony. Now, there is an in between solution.

Bridge-the-gap alimony

Bridge-the-gap alimony in Florida is short term alimony and cannot exceed 2 years in length. It can be awarded to a party to allow the party to ease the financial transition from married life to single life.

Temporary alimony

Temporary alimony in Florida can be awarded to a party to cover their needs from the time that the dissolution of marriage action is filed through the entry of the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.

Lump sum alimony

Lump sum alimony in Florida is somewhat of a hybrid form of alimony. In some circumstances it can be used as a means of support and other times can be used to equalize the asset distribution (i.e one party may be awarded a business and the other party is awarded lump sum alimony as an offset).

Equitable Distribution

Equitable distribution refers to the way that spouses divide their property and debts in a divorce. While some states have community property rules requiring an exact equal division of marital property and debts, most states require only an equitable or fair division. Florida law requires an equitable division but also states that in most cases equitable means equal.

Equitable distribution includes all assets and debts either spouse acquires during the marriage. It doesn’t matter if the property or debt is titled jointly or is only in one spouse’s name. Assets include money, property, and benefits such as retirement accounts, deferred compensation, or profit-sharing. Benefits are marital property whether they are “vested” or not (meaning whether the right to receive the benefits is absolute or depends on some future condition, such as continuing to work for a certain number of additional years). Debts include credit card debts, car loans, real property taxes, loans of any nature, medical bills, school loans and other debts incurred during the marriage.


Law Office of Christopher S. O'Keefe, P.A.
4829 Coronado Pkwy Cape Coral, FL 33904 US
Phone: 239-410-0109 Website:
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