Legal Separation vs. Divorce in Florida
- Legal separation vs. divorce
- Which option should you choose?
- Comparing costs, procedures, and time frames
- Which should you choose?
In Florida, there’s only one legal way to split from your spouse: divorce. Unlike other states, Florida doesn’t offer a streamlined legal separation process.
Workarounds are available. Some people use tools like postnuptial agreements and parenting plans to formalize a split while remaining technically married.
Would a separation or a divorce be better for you? Let’s dig into the differences so you can make an informed decision about your future.
Legal separation vs. divorce in Florida: What’s the difference?
Several paths to independence exist, including separation and divorce. Let’s identify what makes each one different.
In Florida, divorce is also called a dissolution of marriage. People enter a well-defined legal process and untangle sticky issues like the following:
- Division of assets and debts
- Spousal support payments
- Child support arrangements
- Child custody and parenting plans
- Awards of attorney’s fees
At the end of a divorce, you’re a legally single person. You can file your taxes as an individual, and you can get remarried at any point.
No legal separation option exists in Florida. You can’t use approved forms, file paperwork, and anticipate your next steps. But you can use tools like postnuptial agreements to define your rights clearly.
The Florida Bar points out that postnuptial agreements can be used when no divorce is contemplated or imminent. You could use them to settle almost everything you’d untangle in a divorce.
However, a separation means you’re still married, so you can’t marry someone new. You’d also need to state your married status on your tax returns.
Which option should you choose?
Just as no marriage is exactly the same, neither is every break-up. For some people, getting divorced is the clear choice. For others, it’s not so black and white, and they opt for separation instead.
Your reasons for choosing separation over divorce might include the following:
- Religious beliefs: Some faith traditions don’t allow for divorce. A separation allows you to live apart without violating your faith’s rules.
- Reversibility: Once a divorce ruling is handed down, it’s final. Most separation tools in Florida can be revoked with signed agreements from both parties.
- Privacy: Divorce filings are part of your public record. You can craft perfectly private separation plans with your partner and ensure no one else hears about them.
- Reduced trauma: A nasty divorce in court can cause deep wounds you can’t heal. A separation could involve more negotiation behind closed doors. That could be less damaging for some people.
Your reasons for choosing divorce over legal separation include the following:
- Clear path: Florida laws outline how divorces work, what forms people use, and what rights both parties have. No such plan exists for separation.
- Less ambiguity: Because the forms and rules are so clear, you’re unlikely to forget something crucial (like retirement plans). A separation could allow you to skip important things, and you might be surprised down the road when they come up.
- Permanence: A divorce ruling is final. Your spouse can’t come back to court and argue with you about things like shared debts and assets. A legal separation doesn’t come with these protections.
- Moving on: If you want to get married and start a new family, you can do so after a divorce. You are a legally single person. You can move forward with a cleaner slate.
Comparing Florida requirements
Since Florida doesn’t recognize legal separation, no filing options exist. But to file for divorce, you must have specific attributes.
To file for divorce in Florida, you must prove the following:
- The marriage exists and is valid.
- One party has lived in Florida for the past six months.
Florida is a no-fault state, so you’re not required to prove that someone did something wrong that ended your marriage. But you must meet the residency requirements listed above to work within the state’s court system.
Families have plenty of control over separation and divorce costs. The more you collaborate with your partner, the less your split will cost.
Filing for divorce in Florida costs about $400. No similar filing costs exist for separation, as this isn’t a legal option.
You will need a lawyer to help craft separation documents. Such agreements are harder for your spouse to take apart when someone with legal expertise has designed them. Your cost for this work can vary quite a bit, depending on who you choose.
You’re not required to hire a lawyer to help with a Florida divorce. If you collaborate with your spouse and craft appropriate plans together, you can meet in front of a judge in a hearing and represent yourself. A mediator might be able to help you negotiate with your ex beforehand.
But a lawyer might be required if you can’t agree with your spouse. Again, your costs can vary depending on who you choose to help you. And since you can’t share a lawyer, you both will face expenses.
The steps you’ll take to complete a separation and divorce are very different. And know that one is legally sanctioned and the other is more of a DIY, self-controlled process.
How does separation work in Florida?
There is no legal separation in Florida. But people can take a series of reasonable steps to separate their lives and finances.
A postnuptial agreement is a legal document that outlines the rights and responsibilities of both parties. These are the steps involved in creating this document:
- Exchange financial data. Florida courts won’t recognize postnuptial agreements unless both parties can prove they have the necessary information to make smart decisions.
- Agree on the content. Determine the distribution of assets and debts. Answer core questions such as who will live in the house, who will keep the cars, and who will pay outstanding bills.
- Formalize the plans. Once you have verbal agreements, write down those plans. Don’t forget important issues like retirement accounts. Walk through everything and ensure that you’ve separated issues equitably.
- Hire an expert. Postnuptial agreements are legal documents. If you don’t create them carefully, your spouse could argue with them later and overturn them in court. Ask someone to formalize the plans in documents that are legally sound.
- Sign the documents. Both parties must sign and date the documents. Ideally, you’ll have a witness to your signatures.
You can’t use a postnuptial agreement to handle things like child support and parenting plans. If you share children, you must tackle a few more forms.
Know that you can skip all of these steps. You could simply move out and stop sharing assets and debts with your partner. But this comes with significant legal risks, including the potential that your partner could run up debts for which you’re on the hook.
How does divorce work in Florida?
Divorce is often described as a long, drawn-out battle between two people in an expensive courtroom situation. Know that this isn’t a requirement in Florida. You can collaborate with your partner and stay away from long battles. But you must follow several steps to finish this process.
These are the typical steps involved in a Florida divorce:
- Choose the right form. Florida offers several versions of forms to kick off the divorce process. Pick the type that’s right for you and your marriage.
- File documents with the court. Once you’ve filled out the proper form, take it to the courthouse in your area to file it. You will get a stamped version back, and you’ll need it for the next step.
- Serve the other side. Florida courts require the person who filed the documents to give official versions to the other side. You can’t do this yourself, but you can ask a professional (like a serving company) to help. Whoever does it must complete paperwork and file it with the court.
- Exchange financial data. You must clearly disclose your finances with your partner, even if you think that person understands what you owe and own.
- Negotiate with your partner. You can hold a meeting to discuss the issues, or you can schedule a mediation conference and ask a third party to help. This person can help you and your ex to find common ground and a mutually beneficial resolution. At the end of this discussion, you should have a complete plan for the future.
- Agree on a divorce settlement. If you can settle on terms, write them down in a formal divorce settlement agreement and submit it to the courts.
- Attend a hearing. A judge will review your settlement agreement and ensure it matches Florida laws.
- File final paperwork. Your final signed documents must be filed with the courts.
The steps we’ve outlined are designed for people who can agree, even if they need a mediator to do it. If you can’t agree, you must go to court to end your marriage. This process can take longer.
Comparing time frames
Divorces and separations move quicker when couples agree. You have lots of control over this process, so it’s generally worth the effort to work together. But in general, a divorce takes longer than a separation.
Florida laws require a 30-day waiting period between filing paperwork and attending a divorce hearing. If your courtroom is backed up, you may need to wait longer for a judge’s time.
No such waiting period is present in a separation. You can move through this period as quickly and slowly as you want.
Make the right choice
Every marriage is different and filled with unique scenarios. For some people, a divorce is best. For others, separation is a better choice. Only you and your spouse know which version is most appropriate for your situation.
If it’s possible, talk openly with your partner about what you want in your split. Together, you may decide which version of splitting works best for you both.
You may even set up a collaborative tone that can help you split up without fighting. If you share children, this tone could help you to support the future since you will remain in each other’s lives.
ReferencesConsumer Pamphlet: Divorce in Florida. (March 2023). The Florida Bar.
Relationship Dissolution Planning, Part 1: Nuptial Agreements. (November 2006). The Florida Bar.
Filing for Divorce Without an Attorney. State of Florida.com.
How Do I File for a Divorce? Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers.
Form 12.995(a): Parenting Plan. (February 2018). Florida Courts.
Form 12.902(e): Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. (April 2022). Florida Courts.
Chapter 61: Dissolution of Marriage, Support, Time-Sharing. The Florida Legislature.
Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Florida Courts.