If you're planning on getting divorced in Florida, the legal process can seem daunting. But it doesn't always have to be an ordeal, depending on your circumstances and the choices you make.
There are a number of paths you can take when you file for a Florida divorce (known as "dissolution of marriage" in the state's laws):
If you elect to pursue the divorce by yourself, here's some advice about what you need to do to begin the process.
Before you file, you should know whether you meet Florida's residency requirement for getting a divorce in the state: Either you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months before the day you file for dissolution of your marriage. (Fla. Stat. § 61.021 (2021).)
You'll need to provide proof that you meet this residency requirement. The easiest way to do this is to submit one of the following when you file your original divorce paperwork with the court:
Otherwise, you'll have to file one of these documents later or have a witness come to the final hearing and testify about your residency in the state.
You can find and download the basic forms you'll need to start the divorce process on the Florida Court System's Self-Help Center. There are different forms for divorce petitions, answers to the petition, and supporting documents.
There are a few things you'll need to figure out before you know which forms to start with:
Each of the forms includes instructions, including information about the other forms that must (or may) be filed with the divorce petition and answer.
Your county might have additional forms or filing requirements, so be sure to check online or with the circuit court clerk about your county's rules.
Florida is strictly a "no-fault" state, meaning it doesn't allow petitioners to claim that the legal reason (or "ground") for divorce is based on their spouse's misconduct (such as adultery, physical or mental cruelty, or desertion). In the vast majority of cases, you will simply state in your petition that your marriage is "irretrievably broken," with no chance that it can be fixed. (Fla. Stat. § 61.052(1) (2021).)
Depending on your situation, the petition will list all of your assets and debts, your children and their ages, any provisions on which you've agreed, and issues that are still in dispute.
If you're including a request for alimony in the petition, it's helpful to know that the court generally may not consider a spouse's misconduct when deciding whether to award alimony and, if so, how much and for how long. That decision is usually based solely on one spouse's need for support and the other spouse's ability to pay. There's one exception: The judge may consider either spouse's adultery, along with the circumstances. But even in those cases, a judge likely won't order alimony just because of the adultery, unless it somehow increased the other spouse's need for support or led to a depletion of the couple's assets (such as when the straying spouse used marital funds to finance the affair). That same reasoning applies to the division of property in the divorce, in that judges may consider a spouse's wasting of marital assets when making those decisions as well. (Fla. Stat. § 61.08(1), 61.075(1)(i) (2021); Noah v. Noah, 491 So. 2d 1124 (1986).)
After you've gathered and filled out the petition and other forms (including a "summons"), you'll need to bring the paperwork to the circuit court clerk's office in the county where you live. A list of Florida's circuit courts is available on the state website. You'll need to have your petition notarized before filing with the court, so don't sign your paperwork until you can do so in front of a notary. Some courthouses have notary services available for a small fee.
You'll have to pay a filing fee, unless you get a waiver based on your financial need. The filing fee for divorce in Florida varies from county to county, but it usually runs around $400.
Once your documents are filed, the clerk will give you a date-stamped copy as proof of filing. Be sure to make a copy of the documents for yourself, as well as an additional copy for your spouse.
Unless you are able to use the simplified dissolution process, you will need to "serve" your spouse with the divorce papers you filed (along with a blank answer form).
There are a couple of ways to serve your documents in Florida. Your spouse can agree to accept service of the dissolution petition by completing and filing a notarized "Answer and Waiver of Service." Without a waiver, the petition will have to be served through the sheriff's office of the county where your spouse resides. The sheriff's office will often appoint special process servers to deliver the papers. (Fla. Stat. § 48.021 (2021).)
There are alternative rules and methods of service if you're unable to locate your spouse or your spouse is either in the military or incarcerated. Check with your court clerk about these different forms of service.
Early in the divorce case, both spouses will have to provide detailed information about their income, expenses, assets and liabilities. Each of you will need to complete the appropriate "Family Law Financial Affidavit" form for your situation (court's self-help center includes both a short form and long form, with instructions), file the form with the court, and serve the other spouse with a copy. You'll have to file this affidavit with the court, and serve a copy on your spouse.
If you don't include this affidavit when you file the petition (or answer), you must serve it on your spouse 45 days after service of the petition.
As the instructions on the form explain, you might not have to file the financial affidavit in certain situations, such as when you have no minor children, no support issues, and have filed a written settlement agreement that resolves all financial matters.
In addition to completing the affidavit, you'll need to provide supporting financial documentation, including:
It's imperative that you are thorough and honest in your financial disclosures. A spouse who fails to disclose all accounts, debts, or assets could face penalties in a divorce case, such as fines and possible jail time.
While filing for divorce on your own is possible, it might not always be the best idea. It's most practical when you have an uncontested case, or you have no minor or dependent children and very few assets. But in situations where you have custody issues or a significant amount of property, you may be better off hiring a lawyer. Divorce laws can be quite complicated. A qualified divorce lawyer will know the intricacies of the law, as well as the ins-and-outs of the court system.
Remember, you're likely going to have to live with the results of your case well after the divorce is over. If, down the road, you realize you made a mistake, there's no guarantee you'll be able to correct it. So it pays to get it right the first time.