The process of filing for a divorce in Florida begins with a petition of dissolution and may involve various forms of dispute resolution, a discovery process, and a trial. If you have children, a joint business, or a large number of assets and liabilities, your divorce process will be more complex.
The decision to file for divorce is typically an emotional one, but the divorce process in Florida requires a degree of objectivity while you make important decisions that could impact you, your spouse, and your children for life.
Decisions about the division of assets, custody of children, and the disposition of the marital home must be made before the divorce can be finalized.
If you have spent a significant number of years married, determining how to separate your commingled life can seem impossible. If your divorce is contested, you can end up at an impasse.
The experienced Orlando divorce lawyers at the O’Mara Law Group help divorcing couples find positive solutions even in the most complicated and contested divorces. Our attorneys can help with both the decision-making process and the legal procedures.
Step #1: Prepare Before You File
If your divorce is contested, it is unlikely both of you will get everything you want, so decide ahead of time what terms you must have and what you would be willing to concede.
Take Inventory of Your Finances
Your finances include your income, assets, and liabilities. When you are ready to file for divorce, your petition will need to include how you want your assets and liabilities divided and how much child support and alimony, if any, should be awarded.
Filing an Answer
Florida is an equitable distribution state, which means the marital assets and liabilities are split based on what the court considers fair rather than merely splitting the assets and liabilities in half.
Assets include property you have acquired during the marriage, savings accounts, joint businesses, retirement accounts, valuable personal property, and the home in which you live. Liabilities are debts that were acquired throughout the marriage, whether or not they are in both names.
Assets that predate the marriage are not considered marital property unless they were commingled during the marriage or gained value. You may need to make decisions about the following:
- Will one of you keep your marital home, or will it be sold and the proceeds divided between you?
- If you owned a business together, what will become of the business after the divorce?
- Who will keep the valuables you have accumulated?
Do not attempt to hide assets. This will hurt you in the end and could result in criminal fraud charges.
If you both have similar income levels, alimony most likely will not be on the table. However, if a significant income disparity exists, the spouse with the higher income may be required to pay alimony either temporarily or permanently. If you have children, the non-custodial parent will be ordered to pay child support.
Consider Your Desired Child Custody Arrangement
If you have children, you will need to include on your divorce petition your desired child custody arrangement, including consideration of the following:
- How parenting responsibilities will be shared
- Who will make decisions about the child’s upbringing
- Where the child will live and attend school
If custody is contested, the court will make a ruling based on the best interests of the children. When preparing to file, develop a plan that serves the best interests of the children and creates a win-win scenario for both parents to the fullest extent possible. Our child custody attorneys can advise you on custody arrangements.
Talk to a Divorce Lawyer
A lawyer can help you devise a realistic divorce settlement offer and provide the most accurate information about the likely disposition of your marital property. A lawyer can also advise you on how to start the divorce process.
Step #2: File a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
A divorce proceeding begins with a petition for the dissolution of marriage. The petition must state that the marriage is irretrievably broken, ask the court to grant the divorce, and ask the court to grant the desired terms of the divorce.
The petition must be served upon the non-filing spouse, and the non-filing spouse will have the opportunity to respond to the petition. The Florida divorce forms are available from the state court website.
If you do not have children, alimony is not a factor, and you are in complete agreement about the division of assets, you have the option to file for a simplified divorce, which progresses faster and often less expensively than the standard divorce process.
In a standard uncontested divorce, both spouses agree on all the terms of the marriage. In this case, a signed settlement agreement can be included with the divorce papers.
Uncontested divorces are less common and usually involve shorter marriages with no children and few assets and liabilities.
If you want to end your marriage amicably but you are having difficulty coming to an agreement on every term, you may benefit from a collaborative divorce.
Collaborative divorce is a type of dispute resolution process that is handled through meetings with the attorneys for both parties and neutral mental health experts. During these meetings, you will attempt to come to an agreement outside of court.
If you and your spouse do not agree on everything or if you are filing the petition without your spouse’s knowledge, you will still need to include a proposed divorce settlement. Your spouse will have 20 days to respond after being served. If your spouse does not respond, the court may award everything you ask for by default.
In most contested divorce cases, your spouse will respond. Your spouse may deny that the marriage is irretrievably broken or counter the terms of the divorce.
In this case, you’ll need an attorney who has handled contested divorces with a track record of success.
Step #3: Complete the Discovery Process
Within 45 days of service of the divorce petition, both parties must provide a financial affidavit, tax returns, and all other financial information. During the discovery period, both parties will have the opportunity to ask the other party for information.
This can be accomplished through voluntary means or legal processes such as depositions. In a deposition, one spouse asks the other spouse questions under penalty of perjury. This occurs outside of court with the lawyers, expert witnesses, and court reporter present.
Step #4: Try to Reach an Agreement
The court will encourage both parties to attempt to reach an agreement outside of court. If the parties reach an agreement, the agreement must be presented in court, where it will be reviewed and made final. At this point, it becomes fully enforceable.
Develop a Parenting Plan
The parenting plan is a comprehensive document that outlines how the parties will share child-rearing responsibilities. It includes such important details as where the children will live, parenting time, where the children will attend school, and other details about their upbringing.
Begin the Dispute Resolution Process
Dispute resolution includes mediation for child custody and distribution of assets and liabilities. If mediation does not successfully bring about a child custody agreement, you can request parenting coordination, or the court may order it.
A mediator is a neutral third party who meets with both parents and helps them communicate so they can come to an agreement. A parenting coordinator provides similar functions with the added responsibilities of educating the parents and making recommendations to the court.
In hotly contested cases, the court may also appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the children.
Step #5: Attend the Trial
As a last resort, if you are unable to agree on all the terms of your divorce, a judge will make decisions for you at a trial. This is the least desirable scenario. Depending on the nature of the contested aspects of your divorce, this could take anywhere from a few days to several months.
During a trial, the judge will hear from both parties, as well as expert witnesses, the guardian ad litem, a parenting coordinator, or any other interested party with relevant information. Once the court issues a ruling, it becomes final, and the terms are enforceable.
Step #6: Why hire an attorney at O’Mara Law Group?
Mark O’Mara, founder of O’Mara Law Group, is a skilled family law attorney with extensive experience and the following qualifications:
- Board-certified in marital and family law
- Certified in collaborative law
- Supreme Court-certified family mediator
- Circuit civil mediator
Mark began his legal career in 1982 and has built a team of experienced, compassionate attorneys with a proven track record of providing solid representation to individuals filing for divorce.
Whether you need an attorney to help you with a difficult, tense divorce situation or you need advocacy in a custody battle, our attorneys will fight vigorously to ensure you get the positive divorce outcome you need. Contact us today for a free consultation with a divorce attorney.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to the questions we most frequently receive about filing for a divorce in Florida.
Begin the Dispute Resolution Process
Certain provisions of the divorce — including alimony, child support, and parenting time — may be modified, but only with changed circumstances. Trust the legal team at O’Mara Law Group to protect your rights, especially your parental rights, in a divorce modification proceeding.
Can I file for a legal separation in Florida?
Florida does not recognize legal separations, but you can live separately and file a petition for child custody, child support, and alimony.
Is divorce less complicated for the elderly?
Elderly adults are less likely to have child custody matters unless they have custody of grandchildren. However, gray divorces can be complex and emotionally taxing. This is due to the length of these marriages and the ages of the spouses, which typically result in more financial concerns and more assets to be divided.
Can I file for divorce without a lawyer?
It is possible to file for a divorce in Florida without an attorney, but the real question is whether you should. A Florida divorce attorney has experience with the law and has seen enough divorces to know how to devise a beneficial divorce settlement — even in the most complicated cases.
If your case must be decided in court, your former spouse may try to paint an unfavorable picture of you. You will need an attorney to present your side in a favorable light. The court may judge you by your reaction, and an attorney can prepare you so that your courtroom demeanor and responses work in your favor.