How to Get Divorced in Florida
First, in Florida, divorce is called “dissolution of marriage.” If you and your spouse can come to an agreement on all of the major issues related to ending your marriage (such as the division of marital property and debts, child timesharing/custody, child support, and alimony), then you are good candidates for an uncontested dissolution of marriage. This option is generally easier and less stressful and results in fewer court appearances and lower legal bills.
However, in cases where one or both of you dispute one or more issues listed above, then you find yourself in a contested divorce or dissolution of marriage. In this situation, you will need to go through numerous steps during the legal process. They may include, but are not limited to:
- Consulting with and hiring an attorney. This is one of the most important steps in any divorce. Make sure that the attorney whom you retain makes you feel comfortable and is one which you believe will best represent you.
- Preparing, filing and serving the dissolution of marriage petition and supporting documents. This is the legal paperwork that asks for the divorce or dissolution of marriage, states the grounds for the breakdown of the marriage, and lists your requests. The petition is filed with the court and then your attorney will arrange for a private process server or sheriff to serve the petition and supporting documents on your spouse.
- Your spouse responds to the petition. In Florida, your spouse has 20 days after being served to file an answer and/or Counter-Petition with the Court. If they do not, you may obtain a default judgment of dissolving the marriage. Depending on the issues, you will likely have a default trial in front of a judge or magistrate. This process is similar to what happens at a trial as described below.
- Mandatory Disclosure and Discovery. In Florida, both participants are required to file Financial Affidavits in which they disclose their income, expenses, assets, and liabilities to the other party and the court. They are also required to provide the other party supporting financial documents called Mandatory Disclosure. These include but aren’t limited to tax returns, W-2’s, 1099’s, K-1’s, pay stubs, bank statements, retirement account statements, credit card statements, and all financial information relating to a business owned by one of the parties. Divorce discovery is the information gathering process to obtain information (related to marital assets, income, and any other issues relevant to their case) from your spouse and third-party witnesses through written interrogations, document requests, and depositions. (Note: At this point, spouses are able to request temporary orders for child support, alimony, or timesharing and other parenting issues from the courts.)
- Settlement. Proposals and negotiations go on between your attorney and your spouse’s attorney in hopes of finding a mutually agreeable settlement. The judge will order mediation where a neutral third-party helps you deal with unresolved issues and hopefully settle your case. Most cases end in a marital settlement agreement and an agreed-upon parenting plan for children.
- Trial. If the parties are unable to resolve the issues and attempt to reach a settlement fail, you will have a trial before a judge (there are no juries for dissolution of marriage cases in Florida). During the trial portion, both sides will give opening statements, present witnesses, and those witnesses are then cross-examined by the opposing side and then each side will present closing arguments. Thereafter, a judge comes to a written decision or ruling regarding the issues called a Final Judgment, usually within a few weeks.
- Post-trial motions and hearings. After the judge enters a Final Judgment, both parties have the right to file a post-trial motion for relief from the Final Judgment (Motion for Re-Hearing).
- Appeals. If post-trial motions (Motion for Re-Hearing) are denied, a notice of appeal can be filed. If the case is reversed, it is sent back to the trial court. If the case is affirmed, the process is over.
While it is hard to say how long this process will take in your particular case, cases can be resolved as quickly as a few months or can take as long as two years to conclude. The more you and your spouse can cooperate and reach compromises, the smoother and faster the process will go.
About the Author
Christina “Christy” O’Brien concentrates her practice in the areas of Divorce, Marital and Family Law. More specifically, her family law practice includes dissolution of marriage (divorce), custody, paternity, child support, domestic violence injunctions, post-judgment modifications, and dependency issues.
Christy serves on the Family Resource Center of Southwest Florida and Lee County Legal Aid Society Board of Directors. She is a former member of the Association of Family Law Professionals Board of Directors.