Divorce Process in Florida

by Beverly Bird

Like some other states, Florida has decided that "divorce" is a dirty word. When you end your marriage in the state, it’s a "dissolution." The state requires mandatory steps you must take along the way, most of them designed to help you avoid a trial. However, some couples can bypass these requirements if they’re in agreement to do so.

Petition

The opening document for a divorce in Florida is a petition for dissolution of marriage. If you file, you’re the petitioner. You must file the petition with the circuit court, and you must be a resident of the state for at least six months in order to do so. Florida has two grounds, or legally permissible reasons, to end your marriage. Either the marriage must be “irretrievably broken,” or your spouse must be mentally incapacitated for a period of three years or more.

Answer

After your spouse receives your petition for dissolution, she has a limited period of time within which to respond. Within 20 days, she should file some form of answering document with the court. She can file an answer, either denying that your marriage is broken or admitting to it, and agreeing to or opposing the things you’ve asked for in your petition. She also has the option of filing a counter-petition, itemizing her own requests for how she wants to end the marriage.

Getting the Facts

After you file your petition with the court and your spouse answers it with a document of her own, Florida law requires you to exchange Family Law Financial Affidavits within 45 days. This form discloses your income, assets, liabilities and budget. After you’ve done this and submitted copies to the court, you can ask the court for a hearing to set temporary orders while your dissolution is in progress. These might include a request for child support, spousal support or a visitation schedule so you can see your children.

Parenting Class

If you have children, Florida requires you to take two additional steps toward the dissolution of your marriage. You must attend a court-sponsored parenting class to help you handle the dissolution in the best way possible for your children. When you’ve completed the class, you must submit a parenting plan to the court, explaining your custody and visitation arrangement, or you must tell the court that you’ve been unable to agree to one so a judge can decide the issue for you.

Trial or Settlement

Unless you have a domestic violence restraining order in place between you, some Florida counties require you to attend mediation if you can’t come to a settlement on all issues regarding your divorce. Florida law also recognizes the collaborative divorce process, where you, your spouse, your attorneys and financial and custody experts work together to iron out the details of your dissolution. If mediation and collaborative attempts fail, you’ll proceed to trial.

Other Options

If you and your spouse have no children, if your spouse is not pregnant, and if neither of you is asking for alimony, you can mutually waive the requirement that you exchange financial affidavits. If you can reach an agreement resolving all financial and property issues between you without the intervention of the court, Florida offers a special petition for this process, called a simplified dissolution of marriage.