The Florida Divorce Process
In Florida, only a court can dissolve your marriage, or get you divorced. You must fulfill two requirements to file for divorce in Florida, otherwise a court cannot consider your petition for dissolution of marriage-the document that officially begins the divorce case.
The first requirement is that you must have lived in the State at least six (6) months before filing the divorce case.
The second requirement is that the other spouse (the respondent) must receive notice of the fact that you filed for divorce, either by having been served a copy of the paperwork – known as “personal service” – or through any other method specifically approved by statute. This requirement for personal service does not need to be met if the divorce is by agreement, which are known as uncontested divorces. See uncontested divorce in Florida (below).
Personal service on the other spouse is done through a sheriff or authorized process server. Personal service is mandatory when you know the whereabouts of your spouse and don’t have an agreement from your spouse as to the divorce. There are penalties if you try to evade complying with this requirement.
When your spouse receives “the divorce papers,” he or she has twenty (20) calendar days (excluding holidays determined by the court) to file an answer with the court. Besides filing an answer, your spouse could also file a counter petition for divorce. Whatever your spouse files, you or your lawyer must receive a copy of that document, too.
When you do not know the whereabouts of your spouse so that you can serve them, the statutes provide a procedure for you to be able to get a divorce anyway. A divorce using this process is usually referred to as a divorce by publication, has certain limitations, and will take longer to complete than an uncontested divorce.
Below you will find the following information about divorce in Florida:
- the two main ways you have available for getting a divorce in Florida (uncontested or contested divorce) assuming that you know where your spouse is;
- grounds for divorce in Florida;
- benefits of a divorce; and
- costs associated with the process of divorce
How to Get a Divorce in Florida
Florida divorce statutes (found in Chapter 61, Florida Statutes), give you the option of deciding how to get a divorce. What I mean by this is that, other than the mandatory establishment of child support when there are children of the marriage, you and your spouse will have a lot of room to decide how to do the divorce in terms of litigation or negotiation.
There are really only two kinds of divorce you can choose. The first is to have an uncontested divorce. The second is a contested divorce, where you go through the litigation process in court until you get a final judgment dissolving your marriage. Each is introduced below.
Uncontested divorces in Florida are those where you and your spouse agree that you will get divorced. Besides that, you both also agree on every single thing that needs to be decided as a result of having been married and wanting to get divorced.
Uncontested divorces usually take less time-a lot less, sometime as little as three weeks-and tend to be less expensive than a contested divorce.
It is worth noting that no attorney can represent both parties, but if the parties agree, then one lawyer can prepare the documents for an uncontested divorce. On the other hand, the fact that each party has its own lawyer does not mean that theirs cannot be an uncontested divorce, and many divorces are done in this way without being as expensive as the public anticipates.
If your divorce is not uncontested, then it is a contested divorce.
Contested Divorces are those where you and your spouse may agree to get a divorce but disagree as to everything else. Sometimes, however, one spouse may not even agree as to getting divorced. Contested divorces, then, are those that are litigated divorces.
Fortunately, there are many opportunities to turn a litigated divorce into an uncontested one as the case progresses through the system.
Litigated (contested) divorces tend to be lengthy and costly, with both sides receiving legal representation by their lawyers to be able to present evidence to the court or judge. Each party to a dispute has the right to require proof of claims made by the other party, to take sworn statements (depositions) from the other party or any witness or both, and so on. All this must be done according to rules of procedure and evidence, and each of these mini-processes costs money in terms of the time of the lawyers, cost of copies of documents, stenographers for depositions, etc.
Added to these factors is the high number of divorces filed annually as well as old actions that need modification of the final judgment, resulting in a slow process for you to get your contested divorce done because the time available to the courts for hearing and trials is limited.
In addition, some counties in Florida have automatic orders that are applicable as soon as the divorce is filed. This is the case now in Miami’s Family Court (the Eleventh Judicial Circuit for Miami-Dade County) where the Chief Judge, Bertila Soto, recently issued a Status Quo Temporary Domestic Relations Order, With or Without Children. You can download a copy here or at the Eleventh Judicial Circuit site. This order automatically puts into place certain restraints against tinkering with support (as in access to money), children’s issues (preventing either parent from having contact with the children), assets and debt while the divorce is going on. To modify these restraints, a party needs to ask the court to modify them until the final hearing or settlement in the case.
Grounds for Divorce
The Florida statutes recognize only two grounds for divorce in Florida. One is irreconcilable differences between the couple and the other is the mental incapacity of one of the spouses.
The State of Florida is a “no-fault ” divorce state. This means that, in Florida, there are no grounds for divorce such as abandonment, cruelty and adultery-which were historically the necessary legal grounds for dissolving a marriage. There is also no requirement that your spouse consent or agree to the divorce. Simply the parties are unable to reconcile differences between them (whatever they may be) and one of you decides to legally end the marriage; or one of the parties has been declared mentally disabled by a court.
Benefits of Divorce
Because marriage is a legally recognized relationship, each spouse has rights and obligations arising from the marriage.
According to the facts of each case, the divorce decree (legally know as a final judgment of dissolution of marriage) makes clear the rights of each party as to sharing custody and child support (if they have children from the marriage), division of property and debts, the right to alimony by one or the other of the spouses, and the right to contribution to the legal fees and court costs of either spouse.
Costs in a Divorce
In filing for divorce in Florida courts, the petitioner must pay the court a fee of $409 to open the case in court. This charge is independent of any fee paid to a divorce lawyer. A divorce can have additional costs that have nothing to do with the court or or the lawyers. For example, costs of translators for parties or witnesses who will testify, stenographers, process server fees,etc. If the divorce papers are going to be served because it is a contested divorce, there is an additional $10.00 fee, paid to the Clerk of the Courts, for the summons -the official notice to the other spouse that a divorce action has been filed.
If your spouse (as the respondent) files a counter-petitions for divorce in the case, the they too will pay a filing fee-$295.00.
Effective April 1, 2013, all NEW divorces with lawyers must be filed using the Florida eFiling Portal. This means that the filing fee must be paid online. The result is that parties will also have to pay and additional $3.00 when filing a new divorce petition. The filing fee for $295 for a counter-petition is also subject to this $3.00 fee.
If you have children from the marriage, visit Child Custody Laws in Florida, Florida Child Support Laws, and parenting divorce class in Florida or visit this link to take the parenting class directly.
For consultations with me, see Case Assessments Sessions (SM) on this site
For Information on my Flat Fee Florida Uncontested Divorce Online:
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