DIVORCE IN FLORIDA
When you and/or your spouse determine that a divorce is a necessary step in your marriage, it may seem overwhelming to start the divorce process. There are many factors that can influence where to begin, how long the process will take, and what you can expect when filing for divorce. These factors include whether the couple have children and if any of those children are minors, the state(s) of residence, marital debt, property and assets, and others.
Chapter 61, Florida Statutes, guides the dissolution process in Florida. Either spouse may file for divorce if the marriage is irretrievably broken, meaning there is no chance for reconciliation, or if one of the spouses has become mentally incapacitated for at least three years. Some key points for consideration:
· You do not have to prove that the other person was at fault in order to get a divorce,
· At least one spouse must reside in Florida for at least six months prior to filing a petition for divorce,
· You must file the petition in the circuit court where you or your spouse lives.
Note that if you are an active service member in the military and need to file for divorce, there are different steps in the process compared to civilian divorce proceedings. Click here to learn more about military divorce.
MITIGATING / COMPLICATING FACTORS
If both parties are amicable and civil toward one another, it's likely that the process will be quicker (and less expensive) than spouses who are not. If the parties are not amicable, it's likely that certain steps in the process will take longer, such as negotiating child support, alimony, an overall settlement, participating in motion hearings, or going to trial. Additionally, factors such as whether the spouses share children; if there is marital debt and how much/little; and whether the marriage was short-term also dictate how long and complex the process will be.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Depending on the circumstances and details of the case, standard divorce proceedings include:
Step #1: Filing the Divorce Petition
Either spouse can file for divorce regardless of whether the other spouse agrees to it. Where the petition is filed depends on the Petitioner's (the person filing for divorce) residence. In Florida, the requirements state that the Petitioner or Respondent must be a Florida resident for at least 6 months in order to file, at which point the petition can be filed in the county of residence.
When filing the petition in Florida, the Petitioner will ultimately include basic underlying facts, a statement that the marriage is irretrievable broken, and a statement claiming that one, or both spouses, meet Florida's residency requirements. If you are the one filing for divorce (i.e. the Petitioner) and have lived in Florida for 6 months, you have met the requirements, even if your spouse lives in another state.
Step #2: Serving the Spouse
This is a relatively quick step, however it can delay the process if done incorrectly or improperly. After the petition is filed, the documents must be officially served on the other spouse, who becomes the "Respondent".
In order to complete this step properly, the documents must be served - either voluntarily accepted by the other party signing an acknowledgement of service, or via a professional, such as a process server. A proof of service must be obtained, which states to the Court that the documents were served. While hiring a process server is not required, it is recommended if the other spouse does not agree with filing for divorce or chooses to be difficult.
Step #3: Response from the Spouse
Once the spouse has been served and a proof of service has been obtained, the Respondent is required to file a response within a certain amount of time, typically within 20 days of being served. Again, if the other spouse is not in agreement with filing for divorce, it is possible that they do not respond to the documents at all, at which point a "default" judgment is filed against them.
Step #4: Financial Disclosures
Assuming no default has occurred, Florida requires that the parties exchange financial information and documents in each party's possession. This facilitates settlement negotiations as well as presentation of evidence to the Court if necessary.
Step #5: Requesting Temporary Orders
(child custody, child support, spousal support, etc.)
This step is not always required as it depends on whether the spouses share children in the marriage and if one of the spouses is financially dependent on the other. If either of these factors exist, the appropriate motion is filed. Once the motion is filed, the Court will require a hearing for the presiding Judge to determine whether the motion should be granted based on information provided by each spouse.
Step #6: Settlement Negotiation
Perhaps the most pivotal step in the divorce process is settlement negotiation. By this point, you're able to determine if everything can be resolved without going to trial, or if a trial is necessary because the Parties cannot agree on certain issues, such as child support, alimony, property division, etc. Unfortunately, if the latter occurs, the process is delayed further and more costs are incurred.
Spouses who cannot negotiate a settlement are typically required by the Court to participate in mediation, which is where a neutral party attempts to assist the parties in reaching resolution.
Step #7: Divorce Trial
If a settlement cannot be reached between the spouses, even with mediation attempts, a trial will be held as an alternate means to resolve the process. However, during a trial the spouses have no control over what becomes the final judgment. The totality of all factors from each side, i.e., by way of testimony and supporting documents, are presented to and considered by the Court. The Court will make a determination regarding all issues in dispute between the parties.
Step #8: Final Judgment
The last step in the process is when the judge signs off on the final judgment of dissolution of marriage, which dictates requirements of the parties moving forward as well as an official statement of divorce.
GET HELP FROM AN EXPERIENCED ATTORNEY
Going through a divorce alone can be difficult, but having the help of an experienced divorce attorney helping you every step of the way makes it easier. Stan Peeler has assisted hundreds of clients through divorce and understands the complexities you could face. Don't hesitate to contact our office to see how he can help you.
Call us at 850-332-5555 to speak with us directly or complete our form online by providing us with information about your legal needs. We will call you to schedule an office appointment within one business day.