Divorcing is never easy, but the legal steps are generally straightforward. Many couples find that they can handle the divorce process by themselves. Here are the basic steps to filing for divorce in Florida.
1. Prepare for the legal process
The first step is to determine what your divorce will look like. In many states, there are dozens of reasons a couple could get divorced. These procedures exist because historically a person needed to show some fault by their spouse to get a divorce. Adultery, cruelty, abandonment, and committing a felony are still common fault grounds for divorce. These were once the only way to get a divorced.
Florida has whittled the grounds for divorce down to two, though. The first is the one used in almost every case, it requires a couple to show their marriage is “irretrievably broken.” This is a “no-fault basis for divorce, meaning that nobody necessarily did anything wrong, the couple just wishes to split. The only other ground for divorce is mental incapacity by one spouse. You need to decide what grounds to use (the answer should almost certainly be “irretrievably broken”) and then decide if you will be able to settle any other issues with your spouse.
2. Petition for divorce
To file for divorce in Florida, either you or your spouse needs to be a Florida resident for six months. If you meet that requirement, getting a divorce can be as easy as filling out a form. Florida has a “simplified dissolution of marriage” process for couples with no children that have agreed to terms on splitting up a property. There is also an even simpler form if you have no children or property at all. In these cases, you will likely have resolved all disputes before you petition for divorce.
In most other cases you will first file the petition and then work out other issues. There is a much more complicated form for couples with children, because the courts want to make sure they are taken care of. Another form exists for contested property division cases where no children are involved. If your petition is going to be contested then you need to serve it on your spouse, and then you will proceed much like any other trial. You will enter a period of discovery, where each side is first required to make mandatory disclosures and then ask for additional information. Then you will present evidence to the judge and the judge will sort out these issues. You can still settle at any point while this is going on.
3. Divide any assets and make arrangements for any children
At divorce, a judge will divide any property the couple owns and also enter an order for child custody and support. Many couples lack any significant assets to fight over. If you have children or significant assets, and you are able, it is almost always better to make an agreement with your spouse on these issues.
4. Get the final decree
Florida law requires judges to wait until 20 days after a petition is filed before entering a final order, though the judge can act faster if “injustice would result from this delay.” Once that final order is entered, the couple is legally separated and each spouse can move on with his or her life.