Contested Divorce in Florida

Navigating the choppy waters of divorce can be a daunting task, especially when it's contested. In the sun-drenched state of Florida, the process might seem even more complex, given the unique laws and regulations that govern it. Here, we shed light on the often misunderstood concept of contested divorce in Florida.

Why might you need a contested divorce in Florida?

There are many reasons why a divorce might be considered contested. Understanding these reasons can help you prepare for what lies ahead.

One spouse may simply not want the divorce. Their refusal, or lack of consent, could force the other party to file a contested divorce rather than an uncontested one

Disputes over child custody often precipitate contested divorces. Parents naturally want what's best for their kids, but the “best interests of the children” can differ depending on who you are.

Financial matters are another common trigger for a contested divorce. The division of debt, ownership of businesses, and distribution of marital assets (like the marital home) can be contentious issues. If couples can't agree on how to draft their marital settlement agreement regarding any of these issues, the court may have to step in.

Sometimes, trust has broken down to the point where one spouse doubts the honesty of the other. In a case like this, outside assistance may be necessary. A contested divorce provides a platform for each party to present their case under oath, reducing the likelihood of deception.

In cases of domestic violence or abuse (physical, emotional, or financial), a contested divorce can act as a protective barrier. By involving attorneys and the court, the abused party can avoid direct contact with their ex-spouse. This creates a safer and more structured environment for the dissolution of marriage.

Read: 6 Important Things to Know If You’re Getting a Divorce in Florida

What does the contested divorce process look like in Florida?

Navigating a contested divorce can be challenging. But if you understand this divorce process step by step, it becomes manageable. Here's what to expect.

Step 1: File for divorce

The journey begins with filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage at the local circuit court. The person who files this document with their court clerk is referred to as the petitioner. 

The petition includes critical details about the marriage and grounds for divorce. It also details the petitioner's desired outcome regarding the division of marital property, child custody, alimony, and more. 

There's also a filing fee, but depending on your income, you may qualify for a waiver.

Step 2: Serve your spouse

Next, the respondent (the other spouse) must be formally served with the divorce papers. This is typically done by a sheriff's deputy or a certified process server. 

Once served, the respondent has 20 days to file an answer. If they disagree with any aspect of the divorce petition, the divorce becomes contested.

Step 3: Share important information

Florida law requires both parties to exchange financial information within 45 days of the service of the divorce petition. This mandatory disclosure includes details about income, assets, debts, and expenses. 

This step ensures transparency. It helps the court make fair decisions about division of assets, child support payments, and alimony.

Step 4: File temporary orders

While the contested divorce is pending, either party can file short-term temporary orders related to child custody, dependent child support, spousal support (alimony), and property division. These orders provide temporary rules to follow until the divorce is finalized. The forms can be found on Florida Courts' website.

Step 5: Negotiate an agreement

At this point, the parties attempt to negotiate a settlement agreement.

Mediators or arbitrators can be brought in to facilitate this process. In Florida, most divorce cases are sent to mediation for at least one mandatory session. Usually, this helps the parties resolve at least some major issues, reducing the amount of time needed in court.

If negotiations fail, the case proceeds to trial. Lawyers can also negotiate on behalf of their clients during this stage, but this can lengthen the divorce process.

Suggested: What to Expect in Mediation

Step 6: Go to court

If an agreement cannot be reached, the case goes to trial where a judge will make the final decisions on all contested matters. Both parties present their arguments and evidence, and after careful consideration, the judge delivers a ruling.

Step 7: File the final paperwork

Once the judge has made a decision, a final divorce decree is drafted reflecting the judge's rulings. After the final decree is issued, the divorce becomes official, and the marriage is legally dissolved.

Will you need to go through divorce discovery?

Divorce discovery is a legal process that allows both parties to gather information from each other to prepare for trial. In a contested divorce, the discovery process is often crucial in ensuring a fair and equitable outcome. 

Here are three situations where you might need to go through divorce discovery.

Discrepancies in financial disclosure

If there are doubts about the accuracy or completeness of the financial information provided by your spouse, you may need to initiate the discovery process. This can help uncover hidden assets, undisclosed income, or underestimated liabilities that can significantly impact the division of marital property and determination of alimony or child support.

Child custody disputes

When disagreements over the custody of a minor child arise, the discovery process can be instrumental in collecting evidence that supports your case. This could involve gathering information about the other parent's lifestyle, mental health, physical health, parenting skills, or any other factors that could influence the court's decision on custody matters.

Allegations of misconduct

If there are allegations of misconduct such as adultery, substance abuse, domestic violence, or child neglect, the discovery process can help gather necessary evidence. This evidence can be pivotal in influencing the court's decisions on various aspects of the divorce, including asset division, alimony, child custody, and visitation rights.

Read about no-fault divorce in Florida here.

How long does a contested divorce take in Florida?

The period of time a contested divorce takes in Florida depends on several factors. These include the complexity of the case and the level of cooperation between the parties. However, there are some general guidelines about how long you can expect the process to take.

The overall timeline for a contested divorce in Florida ranges from nine months to three years. Occasionally, a divorce case lasts longer, especially if it is extremely complex.

Florida divorce law mandates a minimum 20-day waiting period between filing and finalizing a divorce. This is true even for uncontested divorces. The waiting period gives both parties time to make sure they believe in their decision.

The length of the process can be further extended by various factors, such as the need for mediation or litigation, court scheduling, and the time required to gather and exchange information during the discovery process.

How much does a contested divorce cost?

The cost of a contested divorce in Florida can significantly vary depending on several factors including the complexity of the case, the length of the litigation process, and the attorney's fees.

Filing fees

Florida court filing fees for divorce are approximately $400. This includes the fee for filing the petition and the summons. There may be additional costs for serving the papers to the other spouse, which can range from $10 to $100.

Attorney fees

The bulk of the cost in a contested divorce usually comes from attorney fees. These can vary widely depending on the attorney's experience, the complexity of your case, and the length of the litigation process. 

On average, divorce lawyers in Florida charge between $260 and $330 per hour. In a contested divorce where negotiations and court appearances are necessary, these costs can add up quickly.

Additional costs

Additional costs may arise during a contested divorce. These can include fees for mediators or arbitrators if you choose to use these services; costs for parenting classes (which are required in Florida if you have minor children); and costs for hiring experts like tax advisors, real estate appraisers, or child custody evaluators.

In total, a contested divorce in Florida can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $30,000 or more. However, it's important to remember that these figures can vary widely based on your specific circumstances.

Can I switch from a contested to an uncontested divorce?

It is possible to switch from a contested to an uncontested divorce. The process of doing so generally involves reaching an agreement on the issues at hand in the divorce proceedings.

In a contested divorce, the spouses disagree on one or more key issues – property division, child custody, alimony, or other matters. Their disagreement leads to the "contested" nature of the divorce. It often results in court hearings where a judge makes the final decisions.

Switching to an uncontested divorce means the spouses have managed to resolve their disagreements and come to a consensus on all of these issues. This can happen through various means, such as negotiations between attorneys, mediation, or a collaborative divorce process

Hello Divorce has plans to suit your Florida divorce needs. Our mission is to make divorce affordable and accessible to everyone.

Suggested: Everything You Need to Know before Getting Divorced in Florida


Florida State Courts Self-Help Center. Florida Courts.

Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.