Most lawsuits generate a lot of paperwork, and this is particularly true with divorces. A court needs information regarding your finances, property and children so a judge can make fair decisions regarding these issues if your divorce is contested. Florida is no different, but the state offers more divorce options so this can complicate matters when you're trying to figure out what to file.
Starting Your Divorce
Florida offers a simplified divorce procedure if you and your spouse have no children, waive your rights to alimony and agree on how to divide your property. To use this option, you must file a joint petition for simplified dissolution. Otherwise, the petition you file depends on the circumstances of your marriage. Florida requires different petitions if you have children, if you don't have children but have marital assets, or have no children or property but want the court to rule on other issues, such as alimony.
You'll also need a summons and process service memorandum so the sheriff can serve your spouse with a copy of your petition after you've filed it with the court. The summons tells your spouse what to do to answer your petition and the memorandum gives the sheriff information regarding where to find your spouse and during what hours. You need these documents only if your spouse won't accept a copy of the petition from you. If he does, he should sign a waiver of service of process instead, which you must then file with the court to prove he received your petition.
If you're not filing for a simplified dissolution of marriage, you must also complete a family law financial affidavit. You can use the short form if you earn less than $50,000 a year. Otherwise, you must use the longer, more detailed form. You must file the financial affidavit with the court and exchange a copy with your spouse within 45 days after your spouse receives your petition for divorce. If you have children, you must complete a child support guidelines worksheet, which will eventually help the court figure out how much child support to order. It details your income and repeats much of the information you already included in your financial affidavit.
Florida requires you to file a parenting plan if you have children. You and your spouse can file one jointly if you agree on custody and visitation, or -- if you're contesting custody -- you can each submit a separate parenting plan. The form explains to which parent you think the court should award custody and when your child will spend time with her other parent. You'll also need a Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement affidavit, listing all the residences where your children have lived for the past five years. Under federal law, Florida can decide issues of custody and issue custody orders only if your children have lived in the state for the past six months. You'll need this form even if you and your spouse agree on custody, so the court can approve your parenting plan.
If you file for simplified divorce or you and your spouse negotiate a resolution of issues so you don't need the court to decide them for you, you must file a marital settlement agreement. Florida has three separate agreement forms, one is used if you chose the simplified divorce procedure while the two others may be used for regular divorces -- one if you have children and the other if you do not. If you can reach an agreement with your spouse and submit a marital settlement agreement, along with all other required paperwork, you can usually be divorced within a few weeks after the court receives your agreement.