You have decided that you’re ready to take the next step and file for divorce, but did you know there are requirements you must meet to ensure you’re following the proper procedure for divorce in Florida? Before you even begin the Florida divorce process, there are some issues you may encounter, such as residency eligibility and grounds for divorce, that should be considered.
To be eligible to file for divorce in Florida, at least one of the two parties must have lived in the State of Florida for at least six (6) months before they can file with the court. The divorce filing must be made in the county in Florida in which either of the spouses resides, and if this is two (2) different counties, then it should be the last county in which the parties last lived together with the intent to remain married. There is an exception, however, to the six (6) month rule, and that is if you are a member of the military who resides in Florida but is currently stationed outside of the State of Florida.
Florida is a no-fault divorce state. The only reason you would need to plead to file for divorce if your marriage is irretrievably broken. This means that you must assert that your marriage is over and that there is nothing anyone, even the court, can do to repair it. If you or your spouse have been mentally incapacitated for three years or more, this is also grounds for a divorce in Florida.
If you meet the residency eligibility and the grounds for divorce, you can move forward with the Florida divorce process and file for divorce in the Florida courts. One of the spouses generally will file a document called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage along with other required documents depending on the issues in your case and whether you and your spouse have minor children in common. The spouse filing the Petition is called the Petitioner, and the other spouse is the Respondent.
After the Petition is filed, the Petitioner must provide a copy of the Petition to the Respondent by service of process. This is what is known as serving divorce papers. The Respondent spouse is then required to file a responsive pleading, generally known as an Answer, and may also file a Counterpetition for Dissolution of Marriage, pleading for their own relief. In some circumstances, such as when jurisdiction is at issue or if there are grounds to dismiss the petition or ask for other relief, another response to the Petition may be necessary that is dependent on the situation and facts surrounding the parties’ divorce.
If you don’t know your spouse’s current location, you can serve them with what is known as a constructive service. This is done by paying to place an ad in a local newspaper (assuming you can find one in the area where your spouse lives) to alert your spouse publicly that you are serving them with divorce.
Within 45 days of serving the petition, Florida requires both spouses to provide what is known as mandatory disclosure, which includes a financial affidavit and specific documents. This is required so that each spouse has a clear and complete understanding of what is included in the marital estate, such as assets and debts, along with each spouse’s income. This then permits each party to have an understanding of what is to be divided and what support (alimony and child support) is at issue to be decided.
Depending on the county in which the Florida divorce is filed, mediation may be ordered to occur before certain hearings and trials. Mediation is a process whereby a neutral third person, called a mediator, acts to encourage and facilitate the resolution of a dispute between two or more parties. It is an informal and nonadversarial process with the objective of helping the disputing parties reach a mutually acceptable and voluntary agreement.
If mediation is unsuccessful, you and your spouse will go to trial, and the judge assigned to your case will decide the issues. Each spouse will be provided the opportunity to present their side of the case through legal argument, evidence, and witnesses. The judge will then make the final decisions on all contested issues.
The above is a general understanding of the Florida divorce process fundamentals as each case is different. There can be other issues that require additional discovery and work in order to be ready to present your case at trial.
For example, in some cases, the values of the assets, such as with real estate and businesses, might be in dispute, or the amount of support to be paid by one spouse to the other can be an area of disagreement.
You can retain an expert to help determine values and compile analyses to present as evidence to assist the court with the necessary information needed to decide the issues.
In cases in which minor children are involved and in the event that the parties are unable to agree on what is known as a Parenting Plan (which addresses issues such as parental responsibility and time-sharing), the court will decide the issues, taking into consideration the best interests of the child(ren).
While most spouses settle the issues of their divorce at one point or another, as it is best to do so instead of leaving the outcome of the divorce in the hands of a judge to decide, you should be fully aware of your legal rights and what the law is as to the issues of your case. Your lawyer should provide you with the understanding that you need to decide how to best resolve your matter.
Obtaining legal advice, from an experienced family law attorney, about what the outcome of your case should be if the matter went to trial is an excellent way of deciding what to argue for and what to compromise on. When making this determination looking at the upsides and downsides, if your case were to be decided by a judge against the cost of an attorney’s fees, experts’ cost, and the time and aggravation of litigation, in general, is something we at Yaffa Family Law Group believe is crucial so that each client we represent can make an informed decision as to how best to proceed.
If you or someone you know is considering divorce or have questions about the Florida divorce process, please take us up on speaking with one of our Florida family divorce lawyers by contacting our law firm at 561-276-3880 or visiting our website at www.yaffafamilylawgroup.com to schedule your confidential complimentary consultation.