guest columnist

Making tough choices during the holidays


The holiday season is supposed to be an enjoyable time of year, yet it’s often a particularly trying time for many marriages. While divorce filings typically dip in December, the opposite holds true for January – which is ominously nicknamed “divorce month” in legal circles.
The reasons for the January spike run the gamut. Some people wait because they worry about ruining the holidays for their children. For others, it might be a matter of a New Year’s resolution. And for some, the final straw may even involve a spouse’s bad behavior at a holiday party.
Whether one’s spouse was a good or bad partner has little, if any, relevance under modern law. Since 1971, Florida has been a no-fault state, meaning that one merely will have to testify that his or her marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
If you are struggling through the holidays while harboring thoughts of divorce, consider a few things that might affect your decision:

Reflect on Your Finances

Divorce is not only emotionally taxing, but also economically draining. Analyze your current and projected future financial circumstances, including income, expenses, assets and liabilities. Then, contemplate life in separate households. If one spouse financially depends on the other, the dependent spouse should figure out how the bills will be paid. Meanwhile, the independent spouse should anticipate a portion of his or her income will be paid in the form of child support, alimony, or both. Divorcing spouses more frequently think in terms of alimony, but also they should consider whether the separation of their financial lives might be assisted with credit, whether its extra money to make the settlement happen or something as simple as qualifying for a credit card. Consulting with an accountant or another financial advisor might be very beneficial.

Plan for Property Division

When people are married to each other, they accumulate “stuff,” which includes TVs, retirement benefits, houses and even credit card debts. In divorce, all or a portion of a couple’s property will be divided depending on whether they are assets brought to the marriage (non-marital) or assets acquired together (marital). Typically, the martial stuff gets divided in half – at least in terms of value.

Consider Custody Issues

Under the current status of Florida law, the terms “custody” and “visitation” are no longer used. Instead, divorcing parents should have a “shared parenting plan” that includes “parental responsibility” (usually shared) for decision making, “timesharing” for the schedule of when children will be with a particular parent, as well as other details required by statute. Timesharing is often the most difficult issue. Before you begin divorce proceedings, honestly evaluate what you believe to be in your children’s best interest apart from any hostility you may feel toward your spouse. Also, because divorces tend to take an average of six to nine months to finalize, consider speaking to an attorney early on about creating a temporary parenting plan with timesharing order to put in place while the proceedings are ongoing.
Even if the above considerations are daunting, the goal of happiness still ultimately drives whether one divorces or not. Although divorce is a major life event, self-honesty, a sense of rationality and proper preparation can make a difficult time a lot easier.

Lawrence Datz is a partner at Datz & Datz, P.A. with more than 30 years of family law experience. He is Board Certified in Marital and Family Law, a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a Master in the Florida Family Law Inn of Court.