A Guide to the Divorce Process in Florida

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The State of Florida has very specific laws and rules that govern divorces here, especially if children are involved. If you are considering a divorce in Florida, use this guide to answer some of your questions and learn the steps of the process:

Establishing Residency

For the state of Florida to have jurisdiction over the marriage and dissolution, at least one of the spouses must establish residence in the state. To do so, they must prove that they have resided in the state for at least the last six months prior to filing for the divorce.

Jurisdiction Issues

Even if the spouse that wants the divorce has established residency in Florida, that doesn’t mean that the state of Florida has jurisdiction over anyone that does not live here. So, while a Florida judge may order alimony or child support during the divorce, the state would have no way of enforcing those orders if jurisdiction issues exist.

If you think jurisdiction issues may come up in your divorce case, we highly recommend speaking with an attorney who is well-versed in these issues before you proceed.

A Simplified v.s. Regular Dissolution of Marriage

In Florida, a divorce is formally known as the dissolution of marriage. If no children result from the marriage, there is no property to divide, alimony is not being considered, and the wife is not pregnant, a simplified dissolution of marriage is the best option. Simplified dissolutions are quicker, less expensive, and allow both spouses to move on with their lives without a lengthy court process.

For marriages that do not meet the requirements for a simplified dissolution, a regular dissolution of marriage is required.

Legal Separation

Legal separation is not required in Florida for a divorce. Any property or assets acquired during a legal separation period are considered marital property unless there is a written agreement stating otherwise.

Divorcing an Absent Spouse

Wondering what to do if you don’t know where your spouse is? Florida has specific guidelines in place for this situation. Since the United States Constitution requires that all parties in a court proceeding receive proper notification, you cannot move forward with your divorce case until you can prove that your spouse has received such notification. This usually involves:

  • Diligent search and inquiry
  • Constructive service (i.e. service by substitution, service by publication, etc.)

There are caveats to proceeding with a Florida divorce if one of the spouses cannot be located. If you need to divorce a spouse that you cannot find, we recommend speaking with an attorney to discuss your options.

Steps to Filing a Regular Dissolution of Marriage in Florida

  • File a divorce petition

The spouse that desires the divorce must file a petition with the local circuit court. The petition will state that this spouse, known as the petitioner, believes the marriage to be “irretrievably broken”. The petition must be filed in either the last Florida county where the married couple lived together or where the petitioner currently lives. Along with filing the petition with the court, the petitioner must also have it served to the other spouse via the local sheriff’s office or a certified private process server.

  • Answer the petition

Once the other spouse, known as the respondent, is served with the dissolution of the marriage petition, they have twenty days to answer. Their answer must be written and filed with the court. In the answer, the respondent should declare whether they agree with the petitioner’s claim that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”. The respondent may also file a counter-petition with their answer, which the original petitioner must then answer in writing within twenty days of being served.

Claims for uneven distribution of assets, spousal support, child support, child custody, restraining orders, and the like may be made during this step of the process by either spouse.

  • Discovery

Once all petitions and counter-petitions have been answered, the discovery phase of the dissolution case begins. During discovery, both sides gather as much evidence as possible to justify what they are asking for in court.

A financial affidavit must be filed within 45 days of the original petition from Step 1 being served. In this financial affidavit, each spouse’s income, assets, liabilities, and expenses must be listed. This information is used by the judge in the dissolution to determine alimony, child support, and distribution of marital assets. Expect to be required to produce the following financial documents during this step of the divorce process:

  • Tax returns
  • Verification of income
  • Statements
    • Credit cards
    • Bank accounts
    • Retirement account
    • Investment accounts
  • Statements or explanations to account for any debts
  • Mediation

For any divorce that does not involve domestic violence and still has unresolved issues listed on the petition(s), mediation will most likely be required. Mediation is an opportunity for both spouses to work out their issues without the time and expense of a court trial. During mediation, a court-approved mediator will help both parties express their desires and come to a reasonable compromise.

For divorcing couples with children, one of the most important parts of the mediation step is agreeing on a parenting plan. The parenting plan will clearly define each parent’s responsibilities and when the children will be with each parent. Parenting plans are developed based on the best interests of the children, not the parents.

  • Trial

If the spouses cannot come to an agreement on the divorce terms during mediation, a court trial will be necessary. Dissolution of marriage trials in Florida is heard only by a judge, not a jury. During the trial, each spouse (or their attorneys) will present their side of the divorce argument, and a judge will make the final call on any unresolved issues.

There are many reasons a divorce case may go all the way to trial:

  • One spouse may not agree that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”
  • Disagreements about marital property distribution
  • Child custody disputes
  • Alimony disputes
  • Final Judgement

Regardless of whether an agreement was made during mediation or if the case went to trial, a judge must sign off on an “Order of Dissolution” (also called the Final Judgement) in order for the divorce to be finalized. This order will include all of the issues presented and resolutions made during the entire divorce process. Resolutions that were ordered by the court, instead of agreed upon by both parties, will also be included.

Skilled Divorce Attorneys in Tampa Bay

If you live in the Tampa Bay area and are considering a divorce, Caveda Law Firm is here to help. Our attorneys have dealt with all types of Florida divorces, including:

  • Simplified
  • Regular
  • Military
  • Contested
  • Uncontested
  • Common Law
  • Collaborative

Don’t navigate Florida’s complex divorce system alone. Here at Caveda Law Firm, we make sure your rights are upheld, children are cared for, and assets are properly distributed during your divorce. If you feel you are owed alimony or child support, we’ll fight to get you what you and your children deserve. Call (813) 463-0800 or contact us online to discuss your divorce case today.