Florida Divorce FAQs
Here are the answers to some common questions about divorce in Florida.
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Do I need to prove my spouse is at fault?
No. In general, one party just needs to state that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." Fault may enter into the equation, though. For example, a judge may refuse to order alimony, or may reduce the amount, if the spouse who otherwise would receive the support is at fault in the divorce.
How long does a divorce take in Florida?
It depends on whether it is contested or uncontested. An uncontested divorce means that both spouses agree on child support, custody, visitation, division of property and debts, and alimony, if any. An uncontested divorce can take as little as four to five weeks. If the matter is contested — that is, the court must decide any of these issues — it can take six months or longer. In counties where the courts are extremely busy, it can easily take a year or more. Most spouses don’t take divorce issues to trial, though; they settle their disputes themselves or with the help of a mediator.
Learn about Dividing Marital Property in Florida.
What is the first step towards getting divorced in Florida?
File a document called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. It outlines any claims that you have for things like child support, custody, alimony, and division of property and debts. In general, a process server must personally deliver the papers to the other spouse; this is called “service of process.” If you have children, Florida requires you to attend a seminar on children and divorce, but spouses need not attend together.
Is there a residency requirement?
One spouse must be a Florida resident for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of the petition for divorce. If you are temporarily living out of state, the judge will decide whether or not you are still a Florida resident. If the court determines that you have no intention of coming back, you probably will not be considered a Florida resident. If you are in the military, being stationed outside of Florida does not affect your residency.
If I cannot find my spouse, can I still get a divorce?
Yes, after you conduct a diligent good faith search as required by Florida law. There is a list of steps you must take, such as contacting the Department of Motor Vehicles and talking to family and friends who may know where your spouse is. You must also publish a notice in an appropriate newspaper for a certain period of time. The court cannot order any division of property or alimony until your spouse is found and served with the papers.
Learn more about Divorce in Florida.
lawyer represent both spouses, and does each spouse have to have a lawyer?
One lawyer cannot represent both spouses — it’s impossible to represent the interests of two people who have conflicting goals. Even if you think your goals are the same, lawyers are ethically prohibited from representing both parties in a divorce. You’re not required to hire a lawyer, though. If you can agree about property division, support, and child custody and you feel comfortable completing the court paperwork yourselves, you won’t need lawyers and the whole process will be cheaper, faster, and less contentious. A contested divorce typically costs each spouse tens of thousands of dollars, so it’s well worth it to try to work out a compromise.
What if I cannot afford a lawyer?
If your income is very low, you may qualify for free representation from Legal Aid. And if your spouse earns substantially more than you do, the court might order your spouse to pay your attorney’s fees at the end of the case. An attorney might — or might not — be willing to take your case even if you can’t pay, if there’s a good chance of getting the court to order your spouse to pay your fees.
Can mediation help?
Many, many cases are resolved through divorce mediation. It is a lot cheaper to have a mediator--a trained, neutral third party--help you and your spouse negotiate than it is to pay lawyers to argue and prepare for trial. Mediators cannot force a settlement on anyone, but they can show people what would be a reasonable settlement, and advise them as to what the court may do if there were a trial. Sometimes it is just good to have a neutral person, who both sides will listen to, help with the settlement negotiations.
Check out our section on Divorce Mediation to find out if it will work in your divorce case.
What if my spouse is violent or harasses me?
If you’re in danger, call the police or a domestic violence hotline like 800-799-SAFE. Even before you file for divorce, you can get a restraining order from the court, without notifying your spouse. Consult the clerk of court or a lawyer. If the court issues a restraining order on this basis ("ex parte"), there will be a court hearing within a number of days where your spouse can argue against the order. Once the divorce process begins, the court can order your spouse to leave the house (especially if you have children) and stay away from you. Domestic violence cases have priority in the court system and are heard quickly.
Learn more about Domestic Violence.
What if I
need temporary alimony or child support before the final hearing in my case?
You can go to court after you have filed your petition and ask for an order of temporary child support, alimony, visitation rights, or custody.
Can I use my former name after the divorce?
Yes; in the petition for divorce, request that your former name be restored. You can learn more about how it works here.