If you're a Florida resident who's decided to file for divorce, you can proceed with an attorney or handle your divorce on your own. If you're representing yourself in a divorce, it's essential that you understand Florida's requirements including where to file your case and what steps to take. Learn more about what you need to do to begin your case.
The first form to complete when filing for divorce is the "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage." The spouse filing for divorce is the "petitioner," and the other spouse is the "respondent." You'll also complete a "Summons" and file both the petition and summons with the court. You'll use different forms depending on whether or not you have children.
Florida requires at least one spouse to have lived in the state for six months before filing for divorce. See Fla. Stat. § 61.021 (2019). You should file for divorce in the county where you live. Your county may have additional forms or filing requirements, so be sure to check with the court clerk about your county's rules.
Florida does not recognize fault-based divorces. In other words, you don't have to prove that your spouse engaged in misconduct which led to the divorce. Instead, you simply need to state in your Petition for Dissolution that the marriage is irretrievably broken. A judge can still consider either spouse's misconduct (such as adultery or cruelty) when making a property division, custody, or alimony award.
If you and your spouse have agreed on property division, neither spouse is asking for alimony, and you have no children under 18, you may be able to file a "Simplified Dissolution of Marriage Petition." You can also resolve your divorce by settlement agreement. Review your local circuit court's website for more information about simplified dissolutions and divorce settlement agreements.
Filing for divorce means you have given your petition for dissolution of marriage to the clerk's office of the circuit court for the county where you are filing. If you're unsure where to file, a list of Florida's circuit courts is available on the state website. You will need to have your petition notarized before filing with the court. Wait to sign your paperwork until you can sign in front of a notary. Some courthouses have notary services available for a small fee.
When you're ready to file your documents, you'll give a copy of your signed and notarized petition to the clerk, along with the filing fee for a dissolution of marriage. You can file a fee waiver request asking the court to waive your filing fees based on financial need.
Once your documents are filed, the clerk will give you a date-stamped copy showing that the document has been filed with the court. Be sure to make a copy of the petition for yourself as well as an additional copy to serve on your spouse.
You have to give your spouse a copy of your filed petition for dissolution of marriage; this is called "serving" your petition. There are a number of ways to serve your spouse.
Your spouse (or your spouse's attorney) can agree to accept service of the dissolution petition. If he or she agrees to accept service, your spouse or your spouse's attorney must complete an "Answer and Waiver of Service." This form should be signed and notarized and filed with the court.
Alternatively, you may be able to have a local sheriff hand deliver the petition to your spouse. Check with your circuit court clerk's office for more information on using a sheriff for effectuating service. You may also hire a private process server or use another non-party over the age of 18 to serve your petition on your spouse. Your circuit court clerk's office will have a list of approved process servers for you to select from.
If you're unable to locate your spouse, your spouse is in the military, or your spouse is in jail, check with your court clerk about alternative service. You'll have to follow specific service rules in these unusual circumstances.
During the course of your divorce, you'll be required to complete a financial affidavit. Generally, you have 45 days of the date of service of the petition to provide your spouse with a signed financial affidavit. Blank financial affidavit forms are available on Florida's Family Law Self-Help website or from your local court clerk.
In addition to completing the financial 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 sanctions in a divorce case.
See our section on Divorce and Family Laws in Florida for more information on the divorce process as well as related legal issues you'll likely encounter in your case.
Certain low-income individuals may qualify for additional legal help. You can visit the Florida State Bar's website for additional online resources or to see if you qualify for legal assistance.
For the full text of the law governing filing for divorce, custody, child support and alimony in Florida, see Florida Statutes Title VI, Chapter 61.