If you’re considering getting divorced in Florida, you’ll need to decide if you want to hire an attorney or handle your divorce yourself. The divorce rules in Florida are different than in other states, and may vary depending on your county. This article provides an overview of Florida divorce laws. If after reading this article you have questions, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
When you file for divorce, you’ll need to state the grounds, or reason, for the divorce. Florida is a no-fault divorce state, which means you don’t have to show that your spouse engaged in bad behavior (such as adultery) in order to get a divorce. Either spouse can file for a no-fault divorce by stating that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." This is just a fancy way of saying that you and your spouse can’t get along anymore. See Fl. Stat. § 61.052 (2020). While you can’t seek a Florida divorce on fault grounds, a judge may consider one spouse’s fault when deciding child custody or calculating an alimony award.
To file for divorce in Florida, you or your spouse needs to be a resident of the state. You or your spouse must have lived in Florida for six months before filing for divorce. See Fl. Stat. § 61.021 (2020).
Florida has enacted special laws to make getting a divorce in Florida easier. Specifically, Florida law allows a traditional dissolution or a simplified dissolution case.
As its name suggests, a simplified dissolution of marriage (called a “divorce” in other states) is quicker, easier way to get divorced in Florida. Couples who meet all the following requirements may file for a simplified dissolution:
Couples seeking a simplified dissolution are responsible for filing all necessary documents and must appear together before a judge who will grant the divorce. More information about the simplified dissolution process and forms are available on the Florida Courts website.
A traditional dissolution proceeding begins when either spouse files a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” with the court. A petition sets forth the grounds and explains what the filing spouse wants in terms of division of property, alimony, custody and child support The spouse filing the Petition must “serve” (or deliver) the document to the other spouse.
At this point, the other spouse may file an Answer to the Petition or agree with the Petition’s terms. In many cases, couples are able to reach a divorce agreement on their own or with a mediator’s help. Couples who aren’t able to reach an agreement through mediation, will have to go to trial. A judge will decide all issues in the divorce at trial.
Florida is an equitable distribution state. This means that a Florida judge will divide a couple’s marital property equitably or fairly, but not necessarily equally. Couples can reach their own property settlement agreements. However, when spouses can’t agree a judge will divide property based on the following:
Ultimately, property division is based upon all facts of the case and both spouses' contributions to the marriage. See Fl. Stat. § 61.075 (2020).
Alimony isn’t awarded in every Florida divorce. However, a judge may award alimony when the spouse requesting alimony has a financial need and the other spouse has the ability to pay alimony.
To determine whether an alimony award is appropriate, and if so, how much, a judge will look at the length of the couple’s marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, each spouse’s age and mental health, tax effects of alimony on each spouse, each spouse’s financial resources and monthly expenses and debts, and any other relevant factor.
A judge may award temporary alimony while a divorce is pending, or rehabilitative alimony to help a divorced spouse finish a degree program or get a job. “Lump sum alimony” refers to a single lump sum alimony payment. Lump sum alimony is non-modifiable. “Permanent alimony” is what most people think of as an alimony award. Permanent alimony is typically paid monthly by one spouse to the other. A permanent alimony award can last months or years, but most permanent alimony awards will end when the supported spouse (spouse receiving alimony) dies or remarries. See Fl. Stat. § 61.08 (2020).
Many couples wonder, “how long will it take to get a divorce in Florida?” The answer depends on several factors, including whether or not you have children with your spouse. Couples can reach their own child custody (also called “parental responsibility”) and visitation (also called “parenting time”) agreements as long as the agreement serves the child’s best interests. If couples can’t agree on parenting time and responsibility, a judge will decide.
A custody order will address each parent’s responsibility for making major decisions regarding the welfare (health, education, and religion) and parenting time (where the child lives and where the child spends holidays and summer vacations). To determine a child’s best interests, a judge will examine several factors, including: each parent’s physical and mental health, the child’s relationship with each parent, the child’s ties to siblings and the community, the child’s physical and emotional needs, among other factors.
Both parents are obligated to financially support their children. In Florida, a child support award is based mostly on the incomes of both parents. Florida has enacted child support guidelines that let parents estimate their potential support obligation. However, a judge can deviate from the guideline support amount and increase child support if a child has unusual medical expenses or needs. In most cases, a child support award will continue until a child reaches 18 and graduates high school, or is emancipated.
If you have specific questions about divorce in Florida, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.