A lot goes through your head when you’re considering a divorce. Before you go down a Google rabbit hole, know that each state has different laws and processes. Then save yourself headaches by only paying attention to the laws where you plan to file for the divorce.
If that’s Florida, keep reading. This article provides an overview of the state’s divorce laws and outlines the steps involved in the divorce process to help you make the best decisions for your future.
Grounds for divorce in Florida
In Florida, there are only two grounds for divorce:
- Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage: This is the most common ground for divorce in Florida. It refers to situations in which the marital relationship is broken beyond repair.
- Mental incapacity: This ground for divorce applies when one spouse has been declared mentally incapacitated for a period of three or more years.
Despite Florida’s no-fault divorce law, the court doesn’t ignore domestic violence and other types of abuse. In these cases, a judge can order the protection of victims before dissolving a marriage. In addition, the court may consider any child abuse when determining issues related to the divorce such as child custody.
Residency requirements for divorce in Florida
To file for a divorce in the state of Florida, one of the spouses must have resided in Florida for a minimum of six months before filing. In addition, in order for a court in Florida to make a decision about alimony and child support, the payer must live in Florida.
Where you can file for divorce varies:
- If the parties are both residents of Florida, they can file for divorce in the county where either party lives.
- If only one party is a Florida resident, they can file for divorce in the county where that spouse lives.
- If there is a marital home in Florida, the divorce must be filed in the county where the home is located.
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Florida divorce process: dissolution of marriage
The process for a regular dissolution of marriage in Florida typically involves the following steps:
1. Prepare the forms
Download the forms for a dissolution of marriage, which you can find on the Florida Court System’s Self-Help Center. This includes the divorce petition and supporting documents. Your county might have additional forms or filing requirements, so check with the circuit county clerk.
2. File a petition for dissolution of marriage
Take the completed forms to the circuit court clerk’s office in the county where you and your spouse last shared a residence. Your paperwork must be notarized, so don’t sign any paperwork until you are in front of a notary. (Most courthouses have notary services available for a small fee.) You’ll also pay a filing fee, which currently is approximately $400 but varies from county to county. After you file your papers, the court clerk will give you a date-stamped copy as evidence of your paperwork. Make copies of your papers—one for you and one for your spouse.
3. Service of process
The petition must be served to your spouse (the respondent). In Florida, you can serve your documents in two ways:
- Your spouse can agree to accept service of the dissolution petition by completing and filing a notarized answer and waiver of service.
- Without a waiver, the petition must be served through a certified process server. Provide them a copy of all of the documents.
If you aren’t able to locate your spouse or they’re in the military, consult your court clerk about your options.
The respondent has 20 days to file a response to the petition, also known as an “answer”. In the answer, the respondent can agree or disagree with the information in the petition and can also raise any defenses or counterclaims they have.
5. Mandatory disclosures
Within 45 days after the respondent has been served, each party must provide mandatory disclosures (an extensive list of financial documents) to the other party. However, if alimony or child support isn’t an issue in the divorce, the parties can agree to waive this.
In regular dissolution of marriage, the parties are required to attempt mediation. In this process, the spouses meet with a neutral third party to try to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on the issues in their divorce. Sometimes there can be a partial agreement, where some, but not all, issues are agreed to. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement on all issues through mediation, the case proceeds to trial.
In most cases, a court hearing takes place where both parties present evidence, witnesses and testimony. Then a judge makes a decision on any outstanding issues of the divorce.
8. Final judgment
The court issues a final judgment of dissolution of marriage, legally ending the marriage.
Florida divorce process: simplified dissolution of marriage
The process for a simplified dissolution of marriage in Florida typically involves the following steps:
1. File a joint petition
Both spouses file a joint petition for dissolution of marriage with the court, which you can find on the Florida Court System’s Self-Help Center. The petition must include certain information, such as the names and addresses of the parties, the date of the marriage and a statement that the couple meets the eligibility requirements for a simplified dissolution of marriage. You also must file any other necessary documents, including a marital settlement agreement.
2. Final judgment
You and your spouse must attend a hearing, where you both testify before a judge. The court then issues a final judgment of dissolution of marriage, which legally ends the marriage.
Florida divorce process outside of court
In Florida, all divorces must be processed through the court.
You can attend mediation outside of court, which is a process in which a neutral third party (called a mediator) helps the couple reach an agreement on the terms of their divorce. Mediation can be used to resolve issues related to property division, alimony, child custody and more.
Once you file your agreement, the court reviews it to ensure it’s fair and reasonable. If approved, the court issues a final judgment of dissolution of marriage, legally ending the marriage.
Division of assets and debts in Florida
When getting a divorce in Florida, assets and debts are divided equitably, which means fairly but not necessarily equally. The court considers several factors when dividing assets and debts, including:
- The length of the marriage
- The contributions of each spouse to the marriage, including non-economic contributions such as homemaking and child-rearing
- Each spouse’s economic circumstances at the time the property division becomes effective
- Any interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities of either party
- Whether either spouse has dissipated, wasted, depleted or destroyed any assets, including disclosing any hidden assets
Note that assets and debts acquired or incurred before the marriage, or by gift or inheritance during the marriage, are considered separate property and aren’t divided by the court.
Alimony in Florida
When getting a divorce in Florida, alimony (also known as spousal support) is determined by the court based on several factors, including:
- Each spouse’s income
- The financial resources of the party seeking alimony
- The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking alimony to find appropriate employment
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- The duration of the marriage
- Both spouse’s age and physical and emotional condition
- The financial resources of the party from whom alimony is sought
- The ability of the party from whom alimony is sought to provide
- The need of the spouse seeking alimony
- Any other factors necessary to do equity and justice between the parties
Spousal support isn’t guaranteed; the court has the discretion to award or deny alimony. Alimony can also be modified or terminated if circumstances change (for example, if the recipient remarries or if the payer’s financial situation changes).
Child support in Florida
When getting a divorce in Florida, child support is determined by the court based on the Florida Child Support Guidelines. The guidelines take into consideration both parents’ incomes and the number of children they have together. The court then considers other factors, including:
- Each parent’s income and financial resources
- The standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage or household hadn’t been dissolved
- The child’s physical health condition
- The child’s financial and educational needs
- The time-sharing schedule and time-sharing expenses
After determining the basic child support obligation, the court considers any additional expenses such as child care, health insurance and extracurricular activities.
The court has discretion to deviate from the guidelines if there are extraordinary circumstances—such as the basic needs of the child escalating to extraordinary expenses—that would make the application of the guidelines unjust or inappropriate. Child support can also be modified if the circumstances change, for example, if the income of either parent changes.
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Child custody in Florida
In Florida, child custody is determined based on the best interests of the child. The court considers various factors such as:
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- The ability of each parent to provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs
- Any history of domestic violence or abuse
Both parents have the opportunity to present evidence and argue for their preferred custody arrangement. The court may award sole or shared custody. They may also order a parenting plan outlining the specific details of how the child will be cared for by each parent.
When to seek legal counsel
It’s good to speak with a divorce attorney as soon as possible when considering getting a divorce in Florida. A lawyer can provide you with information about your rights, responsibilities and options under the law, and can help you understand the process and potential outcomes of your case.
Additionally, a divorce attorney can help you anticipate and plan for potential challenges that may arise during the divorce process—such as disputes over property and assets—and help you protect your financial interests and the interests of your children.