No one ever enters into a marriage thinking that they will one day get divorced, but unfortunately, it is a common occurrence. If you've made the difficult decision to get a divorce, you'll need to know about the process in your state. Each state has its own laws and regulations when it comes to divorce, so it's important to do your research and understand what to expect. In this guide, we'll walk you through the basics of getting a divorce in Florida. So whether you're just starting out or are already in the process, this guide will help make things a little easier for you.
Getting a Divorce in a "No-Fault" State
If you want to divorce, you are requesting a judge to end your marriage and change your legal status back to single. To get a dissolution of marriage, you must first meet the jurisdictional requirements. In Florida, you or your spouse are required to have been a resident of the state for at least six months before filing for divorce. Once you have met the residency requirements, you can file the appropriate paperwork with the court. The person who files for divorce first is called the Petitioner. In your Petition, you will write out the reasons why you want a divorce. It's worth noting that Florida is what we call a “No-Fault” state, meaning neither party needs to have done anything wrong for the divorce to happen. The reason for your divorce can be stated as "Irreconcilable differences." This is a statement to the court explaining that you and your spouse cannot work through conflicts in your marriage. There is a filing fee you will have to pay when filing your petition – In West Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade County, it's around $409.
Informing Your Spouse of the Upcoming Divorce
Once a petition is filled out, it must be served to your spouse. This is the legal way of informing them that you have filed for divorce and that they need to respond. The process of serving papers can be done in a few ways, but it's important to make sure it's done correctly so there are no delays in your case. A service of process is the term used when one party involved in a lawsuit notifies another party of the pending legal action. In many areas of Florida, such as Miami-Dade County, you must serve a "Status Quo" order along with the petition to notify all parties involved to keep the financial and familial aspects of their lives in stasis. The court tries to maintain control of the situation by keeping things fair, while the plaintiff and defendant figure out an agreement until the court can make a decision. If for some reason we cannot serve the other party, there are some extra steps needed to be taken.
If you are the party that is served with divorce papers, you will be considered the Respondent. A Respondent has 20 days to file a response to the initial divorce petition. The response may answer or attack the petition (called a counter-petition). The response may also ask the court to make temporary orders for things like child custody, visitation, and spousal support. In every petition given to the court, each party must state what they hope to achieve from the divorce, such as asset and liability distribution, alimony payments, child support arrangements, parenting time-sharing plans, and any other claims that could result from the marriage.
Providing Financial Records for a Florida Divorce Case
The next step in getting a divorce is to provide financial records. In Florida, both parties must complete and file a Financial Affidavit. This document provides the court with an overview of each person's financial situation. The Affidavit must be sworn to under oath and is subject to perjury laws. The Affidavit will list things like each person's monthly income, debts, assets, and expenses. This is an important part of the divorce process because it allows the court to make informed decisions about things like child support and alimony.
Lawyers can also opt for a discovery going back in time and request tax returns, bank statements, and other financial records. This is used to cross-check the information given in the Financial Affidavit and to make sure that each person is being truthful about their finances. Florida is a liberal discovery state, meaning that there are few limits on what can be requested during discovery. More in-depth forms of discovery, such as depositions (testimony given under oath outside of court) and interrogatories (written questions that must be answered under oath), can also be used to gather information in a divorce case.
Why Does it Matter that Florida is an Equitable Distribution State?
Florida is an equitable distribution state, which means that the court will divide the assets and liabilities of the marriage fairly and equitably. This does not necessarily mean that the assets and liabilities will be divided equally. The court will consider many factors when deciding how to distribute the assets and liabilities, such as each person's contribution to the marriage, each person's financial needs, and the best interests of any children of the marriage. Each party is entitled to one-half of the marital assets, but the court may award a larger share to one party if it is deemed equitable under the circumstances. Equal doesn't also mean physically equal, for example, the court may award one spouse the house while the other gets the retirement accounts.
What Happens if One Person Refuses to Sign the Divorce Papers?
If one person refuses to sign the divorce papers, it can delay the divorce process. The court may require that person to attend a hearing to explain why they are refusing to sign the papers. In some cases, the court may find that the person is withholding their signature in bad faith and order them to pay the other person's attorney's fees. If the person still refuses to sign, the court may grant the divorce without their signature. Good news for those in Florida: you can get a divorce even if your spouse doesn't sign the papers. In fact, because Florida is what's called a “no-fault” state, neither spouse has to prove that the other caused the marriage to fail. You simply have to say that it's beyond repair.
Alimony Payments in Florida
Alimony, also called spousal support, is money that one spouse pays to the other to help them maintain their standard of living after a divorce. Alimony can be awarded on a temporary basis, which is typically used to help a spouse get back on their feet after the divorce, or it can be awarded on a permanent basis. The court will consider many factors when making a decision about alimony, such as each person's earning capacity, the length of the marriage, and the standard of living during the marriage.
In Florida, there are five types of alimony that can be awarded:
1. Temporary Alimony: This type of alimony is paid while the divorce is pending. It is designed to help one spouse maintain their standard of living while the divorce is being finalized.
2. Permanent Alimony: This type of alimony is paid after the divorce is final. It is typically used to help a spouse maintain their standard of living after the divorce.
3. Bridge-the-Gap Alimony: This type of alimony is paid for a limited time after the divorce is final. It is designed to help a spouse transition from being married to being single.
4. Rehabilitative Alimony: This type of alimony is paid for a limited time and is typically used to help a spouse get back on their feet after the divorce.
5. Durational Alimony: This type of alimony is paid for a limited time and is typically used to help a spouse maintain their standard of living after the divorce.
Child Custody Laws within a Florida Divorce
If you have children and are getting a divorce in Florida, there are a few things you should know about child custody laws. In Florida, Shared Parental Responsibility is the law. Shared Parental Responsibility means that both parents have equal rights and responsibilities with regards to their children. This includes decisions about the child's education, medical care, and extra-curricular activities. Although in some cases the court may award one parent primary physical custody, this is rare. If you and your spouse cannot agree on a parenting plan, the court will create one for you. The court is required to establish a Parenting Plan that outlines how the parents will share their parental responsibilities.
Mediation Settlements for a Florida Divorce
If you're getting a divorce in Florida, mediation may be an option for you. Mediation is a process where both parties meet with a neutral third party to try to reach an agreement on the terms of their divorce. The mediator does not make any decisions, but rather facilitates communication between the parties and helps them reach an agreement.
Broward County belongs to the 17th Judicial Circuit, which offers a mediation program for couples going through a divorce. If you're interested in mediation, you should contact your local courthouse to see if they offer this service. If either party is unable to reach an agreement, the judge will make the final decision at a hearing
The Final Verdict of Divorce
Getting a divorce can be a difficult and emotionally charged process. However, by taking the time to educate yourself on the process and understanding your rights and responsibilities, you can make the process a little easier. Hopefully this guide has helped you get started in your process. If you have any questions about getting divorced in South Florida, be sure to speak with an experienced divorce attorney. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. We can help you navigate the divorce process and ensure that your rights are protected.