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Florida Dissolution of Marriage Basics

Divorce can be incredibly stressful, and the process of filing for divorce, or “dissolution of marriage” in Florida can be confusing.  This article will go through the process, as well as provide some cost-saving options and suggestions to help with the process.  You may want to consider speaking with a marriage counselor, psychiatrist, priest, rabbi, or other professional before proceeding with dissolving a marriage, especially if you think the marriage can be saved. If not, then the following steps will help you along the way.

Florida divorce law requires that only one of the parties in a divorce prove that a marriage is “irretrievably broken”.  You of course need to prove that the marriage exists, and that at least one party has been a resident of Florida for the immediate six months preceding the filing of the petition.  You do not need to prove fault, but fault can be considered when dividing property, alimony, and child custody.

Once you’re ready, you will file your petition for dissolution of marriage with the clerk’s office of the circuit court of the county where you are filing.  That petition will need to be notarized before filing with the court. Most courthouses have a notary on hand who can do that for a fee.  Give a copy of the signed and notarized petition to the clerk, and they’ll give you a notation and date stamp showing it’s been filed. Make two copies of the petition: one for you, and one to serve to your spouse.

The clock starts ticking after the petition has been served. Florida law requires that each party will provide a completed and signed financial affidavit to your spouse within 45 days of having the petition for dissolution of marriage served to them. Don’t provide it? The court can dismiss the case right there or decide not to consider that party’s requests.  The financial disclosure will ask for standard financial information like income, debts, assets, credit card statements, etc.

Mediation can be extremely helpful with speeding up the dissolution process, and can be required by certain Florida counties. Mediation will assist with working out an arrangement between you and your spouse to help avoid an extended trail and divorce process. Mediation is solely designed to help reach a solution on how to divide assets and handle the split.  Mediation is generally court-appointed before trial in the state of Florida.

Settlement can be handled in several different ways.  The easiest is a “simplified dissolution of marriage”, in which both parties may not even require an attorney.  Both spouses will be responsible for filling all the necessary documents correctly, and still need to appear before a judge to get the dissolution granted.  Not everyone can go through the simplified dissolution of marriage.  Both parties must consent to this form of dissolution, you cannot have any minor or dependent children, or adopted children under the age of 18. Again, at least one party has to have lived in Florida for the last six months, and neither party can be pregnant during the divorce. Neither party can be seeking alimony and you both need to agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

If a simplified dissolution of marriage is not possible, then the proceeding will move on towards a regular dissolution of marriage. If, after mediation and formalizing settlement terms is attempted and you still do not agree on everything with your spouse, then you will go to a final hearing or trial in front of a judge. Both parties will present their testimony, and the judge will make a final decision on the contested assets.

During the proceedings, child visitation will be addressed, as well as child support.  Then the division of assets and debts will be performed, and is generally the most difficult part of the process. Assets include your retirement benefits, cash, stocks, bonds, any bank accounts, houses, cars, etc, and your debts will include any mortgages, loans, credit cards, and any other outstanding debts you and your spouse owe.

Alimony is considered after equitable distribution of assets.  The courts may grant alimony if the requesting spouse can prove or demonstrate a need for alimony and that the other party can pay. Prior standard of living and length of the marriage will be taken into account, as well as other factors.

There may be other factors to consider if you’re thinking of filing a petition, and it’s always smart to speak with a professional before hand.  Reach out to your local Florida divorce lawyer if you would like to make an appointment to ask further questions.