Filing for divorce is a significant life decision, often accompanied by emotional and legal complexities. If you’re considering this path in Florida, understanding the legal framework and preparing yourself for the process is crucial. This guide aims to provide a clear, step-by-step understanding of how to file for divorce in Florida, offering you the knowledge and support needed during this challenging time.
In Florida, filing for divorce is a matter of filling out a few quick forms, paying the filing fee, and waiting for a response. In the event that no response is received, the filing procedure quickly advances to the final stages and is completed in less than two months.
Step 1: Forms and Where to Find Them
Florida state courts offer self-help forms online for individuals who wish to file for divorce on their own, with or without the assistance of an attorney. Family Law self-help forms are free to print from home, and they all include basic instructions to help you determine which forms you need and how to fill them out correctly. You can find family law forms on the Florida Courts website at www.flcourts.org.
There are a few different forms that are necessary for filing for the initial divorce procedure to begin. If you do not have children or personal property that you intend to fight for, then you will file Florida Law form 12.901a, which is called a Petition for Simplified Dissolution of Marriage. For a divorce that includes a custody issue with minor children, 12.901b will be required.
Additionally, when you file the petition for dissolution of marriage, you will also be required to file the following forms as well:
- 12.902c Financial Affidavit
- 12.902e Child Support Guidelines Worksheet (if you have children)
- 12.902j Notice of Social Security Number
Step 2: Where to File Divorce Forms
Once you have printed and filled out the above-listed divorce forms, you will need to file them. Forms are typically filed in the county in which the initial marriage certificate was filed. Take the forms with you to the courthouse for the county in which you were married and ask the clerk of the court in the family law division to file the forms for you. There is usually a fee associated with filing the forms. Additionally, you will also need copies of the forms to mail, hand deliver, or have served by a process server to the spouse whom you are divorcing.
The clerk of the court will swear you in, have you sign the forms in her presence, and then stamp them to be filed. If you choose to have the spouse served by a process server, you will likely have to pay an additional fee (usually $35), and you will have to provide the court with an address at which they can reach the other individual. If you do not have an address, you will need to provide as much information as possible because the divorce proceedings will not continue until the other individual is served with the paperwork.
Step 3: Answers and Counter Petitions
Once you have filed the initial dissolution of marriage forms and your spouse is served, he or she will have 20 days to respond to your petition in writing to both you and the court. If the spouse does not respond, then you can file form 12.902f, which is a Marital Settlement Agreement. In this form, you will address the fact that the spouse did not answer your petition, so you are therefore considered in agreement on all terms listed in the original petition for dissolution of marriage.
Should the spouse answer your original petition and file a counter-petition, then you will also need to file an answer within 20 days of being served paperwork from the court. At this time, the divorce procedure can become pretty tricky, and it is advisable to seek the assistance of an attorney for further divorce proceedings. In most cases, the filing procedure up to this point is very simple and does not require the assistance of an attorney.
Understanding Florida’s Divorce Laws
Florida is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that you do not need to prove fault or wrongdoing by your spouse to file for divorce. Instead, you can file for divorce simply on the basis that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
This means that the dissolution of the union doesn’t hinge on proving the wrongdoing of either party but rather on the acknowledgment that the marriage is irretrievably broken. A critical precursor to setting this legal process in motion is the residency requirement, which mandates that you or your spouse have been a resident of the state for a minimum of six months.
The journey begins with a preparatory phase where financial documents are meticulously gathered. This collection, encompassing everything from tax returns to bank statements, is pivotal for the fair distribution of assets and liabilities. For couples whose separation is marked more by mutual respect than discord, mediation emerges as a beacon of amicable resolution, allowing decisions to be made outside the often adversarial court setting. Amidst these preparations, the wisdom of legal counsel stands as a guiding light, ensuring that your journey through this legal labyrinth is informed and your rights safeguarded.
The formal initiation of the process involves filing a petition for dissolution of marriage, a step that demands attention to detail and precision in completing and submitting the necessary forms. Once filed, this petition needs to be ‘served’ to your spouse, marking the official commencement of the divorce process. This period is characterized by a waiting game where the response of the spouse dictates the trajectory of the journey – a journey that can veer towards the straightforward path of an uncontested divorce or the more complex route of a contested one.
In the latter scenario, the divorce process transforms into a phase of negotiation, mediation, and, if necessary, litigation, as both parties strive to reach a consensus on issues that lie at the very core of their shared life – assets, alimony, and the future of their children.
The culmination of this process is the final judgment, a decree that officially dissolves the marriage. This phase is marked by a meticulous review by the court, ensuring that all agreements align with Florida law and the best interests of any children involved. In some instances, a final hearing provides both parties a platform to present their case before the judge makes the ultimate decision.
Divorce in Florida is a path that demands a nuanced understanding of legal mandates and a meticulous approach to the numerous steps involved. It’s a journey that is as much about legalities as it is about transition and transformation. As you navigate through this challenging time, remember that resources and professional guidance are available to provide support and clarity.