- Before filing the petition
- Filing your Florida divorce petition
- Service and response
- What happens next
Divorce is a significant life event that brings about emotional and legal challenges. Hello Divorce is here to demystify the Florida divorce process. Read on for information about each step, from the initial filing to the final divorce decree.
Divorce in Florida: Before filing the petition
Before filing your Florida divorce petition, there are several items you need to know about.
In Florida, there is a mandatory residency requirement for divorce. At least one of the two people must have lived in the state for a continuous period of six months right before filing the divorce petition.
How can you prove this? A valid Florida driver’s license, Florida identification card, or testimony or affidavit of a third party may all suffice.
Unlike some states, Florida does not require couples to legally separate before initiating a divorce. The only requirement is that the marriage must be "irretrievably broken" or that one spouse, for a minimum of three years, has been mentally incapacitated.
It's important to note that living separately can have an impact on other aspects of the divorce, including child custody and property distribution.
Florida law mandates that parents with minor children going through a divorce must complete a Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course, also known as a parenting class. The course is designed to help parents understand the challenges their children may face during the divorce process and provides strategies to minimize the impact. It can be taken online or in person, and it must be completed before the final judgment is granted.
Suggested: Why Do I Have to Take a Parenting Class?
E-filing, or electronic filing, is a way to file your divorce paperwork electronically over the internet. In Florida, e-filing is possible. In fact, it’s often encouraged for its convenience and efficiency.
You can do this through the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal. However, it's crucial to make sure all forms are filled out correctly, as mistakes could delay your divorce process. If you're representing yourself, you're not required to e-file.
In Florida, spouses can jointly file for a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage if they meet certain criteria. They must agree on their debt and property division; they must have no dependent children or other dependents; and they must agree that their marriage is irretrievably broken.
The Simplified Dissolution of Marriage process is generally faster and less expensive than a regular dissolution of marriage, but it requires complete cooperation between spouses.
Filing your Florida divorce petition
To start the process, you'll need to fill out the divorce petition and other necessary forms. These documents can be obtained from the local circuit court clerk's office or downloaded from the Florida State Courts System website. Forms you might encounter include the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and a summons.
Once these divorce papers have been completed, you'll need to bring them to the circuit court clerk's office. You can file your divorce paperwork in the county where you or your spouse live or where you both last lived together. It's important to note that within 45 days of petitioning for a divorce in Florida, you must provide your spouse with a signed and completed financial affidavit.
Fault vs. no-fault
Florida is a no-fault divorce state. In other words, one person’s “fault” did not legally contribute to or cause the end of the marriage. The only grounds required for a divorce are that the marriage is irretrievably broken or that one spouse has been mentally incapacitated for at least three years. This simplifies the process since you don't have to present evidence of misconduct.
Once the divorce petition is filed and served, there's a mandatory 20-day waiting period in Florida before any final hearing can be held. However, if both parties agree on all issues and file all necessary paperwork, the court may waive this waiting period.
It's also important to note that the length of the divorce process can vary based on the complexity of the case and the court's schedule. The vast majority of the time, Florida divorces take longer than 20 days.
Serving your documents
After filing your divorce petition in Florida, the next crucial step is serving these papers to your spouse, also known as the respondent. This process must adhere to specific rules to ensure the divorce proceedings are legal and fair.
There are several ways to serve divorce papers in Florida, each with its own set of rules and procedures:
- Personal service: This is the most common way to serve divorce papers. It involves delivering the summons and a copy of your initial petition directly to your spouse. It must be done by someone other than you or your children, and the server must be a Florida resident who is at least 18 years old. We recommend hiring a professional process server or your local sheriff.
- Service by mail or publication: While not common, there are situations where service by mail or publication may be used. However, in Florida, you cannot mail, FedEx, or email a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. You can only use this option if you're unable to locate your spouse and the judge has approved this option.
Remember, it's important that you do not serve the divorce papers yourself. In Florida, you are prohibited from serving divorce papers to your spouse.
If you can’t track down your spouse
If your spouse is avoiding service or cannot be located, Florida allows for substitute service. This means that if a process server or sheriff cannot personally serve the documents to your spouse after several attempts, they can leave the documents with a co-resident of your spouse who is at least 15 years old. The process server will then mail a copy of the summons and complaint to the last-known address of your spouse.
Substitute service can only be used when other attempts to personally serve your spouse have failed and are documented. The court generally prefers personal service because it's the most effective way to make sure a spouse is aware of ongoing divorce proceedings.
When looking for a good process server in Florida, consider the following:
- Experience: Look for a process server who has experience serving divorce papers and understands the rules and regulations related to service of process in Florida.
- Certification: In Florida, process servers must be certified. Always check to see if the process server is certified before hiring them.
- Reputation: Check online reviews, and ask for referrals to find a process server with a good reputation.
- Availability: Since the process server may need to make multiple attempts to serve your spouse, look for one who has flexible hours.
- Communication: A good process server will keep you updated on their attempts to serve the papers and promptly provide you with the proof of service
Service of process is an essential step in the divorce process. It ensures your spouse is made aware of the divorce proceedings and has an opportunity to respond.
Spouse responds to petition (or fails to respond)
When a divorce petition is served in Florida, the respondent spouse has 20 days to file an answer with the court. Your spouse may be able to get this timeline extended.
If the respondent spouse files an answer within the 20-day period of time, the divorce process will move forward. The answer should address each point raised in the petition and can also include a counter-petition where the respondent can outline their demands.
Once the spouse has responded, both parties may engage in discovery, a process where they can gather information from each other about the marriage, assets, debts, and other issues to be resolved in the divorce. If the spouses can agree on all issues, they may proceed with an uncontested divorce. If not, the case will go to trial, and a judge will make the decisions.
Free download: What to Include in Your Settlement Agreement
Spouse fails to respond
If the respondent spouse does not respond within the 20-day period, the petitioner may ask the court for a default judgment. A default judgment means the court agrees to grant the petitioner's requests without the need for a trial. However, the court will require proof that the respondent was properly served and had adequate notice of the proceedings.
There could be several reasons why a spouse might not respond. They may agree with everything in the petition and see no need to respond, they may be difficult to locate, or they may be ignoring the divorce proceedings out of emotional upset or strategy.
What happens next
Financial disclosure is essentially a snapshot of your financial resources and economic circumstances. This gives your spouse and the court an understanding of each party's financial standing during a divorce. The court then uses this information to rule on things like property division, alimony, and child support payments.
Uncontested vs. contested divorce process
According to Florida divorce law, a dissolution of marriage can be uncontested or contested. An uncontested divorce is where both spouses agree on all issues, including division of property and debts, child custody, child support, and alimony. In this case, the divorce can proceed smoothly and quickly. After the necessary paperwork is filed and served, the court will schedule a final hearing where the judge will finalize the divorce and sign the final judgment.
A contested divorce is where the spouses cannot agree on one or more issues. This could lead to a longer and more complicated divorce process. The case may go through several stages, including discovery, negotiation, and possibly trial.
During the divorce process, you or your spouse may need to ask the court for temporary orders. These are court orders that provide temporary solutions to issues that cannot wait until the divorce is finalized. They may address matters such as child custody, child support, spousal support, and use of property.
To request a temporary order, you will need to file a motion with the court. A hearing will then be scheduled where both parties can present their arguments. The judge will make a decision based on the best interests of the parties involved.
Negotiation is a crucial part of the divorce process, especially when it comes to property division and child-related issues. The state of Florida follows equitable distribution principles, which means that marital property is divided in a manner that is fair and equitable, but not necessarily equal.
During negotiations, you and your spouse (along with your attorneys, if you have them) will discuss how to divide your marital property. This includes assets like homes, cars, retirement accounts, and personal belongings. Debts will also be divided.
Negotiations will also include discussions about child custody, visitation, and child support. If you and your spouse can reach an agreement on these issues, it can be included in your final divorce decree.
Mediation is often used as a tool to help spouses negotiate these issues. It involves a neutral third party who helps facilitate discussion and compromise.
Suggested: What to Expect in Mediation
Final judgment vs. trial
If you and your spouse can agree on all issues, the court will issue a final judgment of divorce. This legally ends your marriage and outlines the terms of your divorce.
However, if you and your spouse cannot agree, your case will go to trial. During the trial, both parties will present their cases, and the judge will make the final decisions on unresolved issues.
FAQ about the Florida divorce process
Is mediation required for my Florida divorce?
In Florida, most divorces must first attend mediation. This applies to both uncontested and contested divorce cases. However, Florida law does not require that you use mediation to arrange your marital settlement agreement; only that you give it a try.
Can I change my name in the divorce process?
You can request a name change during the divorce process in Florida. The request for a name change is typically included in the initial petition for dissolution of marriage or in the response by the other spouse. The court will include the name change in the final judgment of divorce.
How much does it cost to get divorced in Florida?
The cost of a divorce in Florida depends on a lot of things, including whether it's contested or uncontested and whether you hire a lawyer. The basic filing fee for divorce in Florida is approximately $400. If you cannot afford the filing fee, you can apply for a fee waiver.
How much child support will I have to pay?
Child support in Florida is based on the Income Shares Model, which considers both parents' incomes, the number of children, and the amount of time each parent spends with the children.
Will I have to pay alimony?
Whether you have to pay alimony depends on several factors. These include the length of the marriage in years, each person’s personal finances, the standard of living you shared while married, and each person’s contributions to the marriage.
How can I avoid a trial?
Avoiding a trial can save time and money. This can be achieved through negotiation, mediation, or collaborative divorce, where both parties work together to resolve their issues and come to an agreement.
Hello Divorce supports you throughout your Florida divorce process. We can help you find the right mediator and provide flat-rate legal coaching or divorce coaching. We also offer several online divorce plans with your chosen level of professional assistance.
We're here to give you the helping hand you need to get to your fresh start. Feel free to schedule a free 15-minute phone call with one of our account coordinators to ask questions and learn more.
Florida State Courts Self-Help Center. Florida Courts.