How to File for Divorce in Florida If Your Spouse Is Out-of-State

by Mary Jane Freeman

    When marriages end, spouses often go their separate ways, with only a few blocks or miles separating the former couple. However, sometimes spouses end up in different states. If you live in Florida and have decided to file for divorce, but your spouse resides elsewhere, you can still obtain a divorce, although there may be several limitations to contend with.

    Residency

    In Florida, divorce is referred to as a "dissolution of marriage." To file for dissolution of marriage in Florida, either your or your spouse must have resided in the state for at least six months prior to filing for divorce. If this residency requirement is met, you may file for divorce in Florida, even if your spouse lives out-of-state.

    Simplified Divorce

    Once residency is established, you must decide what type of divorce you may file. If you don't have children, don't want alimony and you've reached a settlement agreement with your spouse as to property and debts, Florida offers a simplified process, called a "simplified dissolution of marriage," which may be your quickest and cheapest option. To begin, you must file a Petition for Simplified Dissolution of Marriage, Financial Affidavit and Marital Settlement Agreement with the clerk of the circuit court in the county where you reside. An online legal document provider can help you with this process. Once done, a hearing will be scheduled. Your spouse must be present when you file the simplified petition and at the hearing. If your spouse is unable to return to Florida on either occasion, your only alternative is to file a general petition.

    General Divorce

    If you don't qualify for a simplified dissolution of marriage, you must file a general Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the court clerk. If you and your spouse have reached an agreement on all major issues, your petition will be treated as uncontested and you must also file a Financial Affidavit and Marital Settlement Agreement. However, if any issues are left unresolved, the court will treat your petition as contested. Once the petition and necessary paperwork are filed, you must serve a copy of the petition and summons on your spouse. This must be done by a "disinterested" party, someone who is not a party to or affected by the divorce action, unless your spouse waives service. Once served, your spouse has 20 days to respond. Once the court receives your spouse's answer, a hearing will be scheduled. The judge only considers testimony presented during the hearing. If your divorce is contested, both you and your spouse must attend the hearing; if uncontested, only you do.

    Jurisdictional Limitations

    A Florida court may only rule on persons and matters it has jurisdiction over. Therefore, if your spouse resides out-of-state, or never lived in the state, a Florida court may only have authority to rule on the divorce itself, but not issues of property, child custody, visitation and support, or alimony. Often these issues must be decided in the state where the couple last lived for at least six months or where disputed property is located. Similarly, if minor children are involved, the children must typically reside in a state for at least six months before a court in that state has jurisdiction over matters involving their interests. Even if a Florida court has such jurisdiction, if your spouse never lived in Florida, another state court may have to decide any child support issues.

    About the Author

    In addition to writing on legal topics, Mary Jane Freeman also works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.