If you're facing a divorce in Florida, it pays to do your homework. Whether you plan to hire a lawyer or to get a do-it-yourself divorce, you're going to have to make some decisions, and you should know what to expect. So the more you can familiarize yourself with Florida divorce laws, the further ahead of the game you'll be.
Florida has two basic requirements that you must meet in order to get a divorce (or "dissolution of marriage") in the state: a residency requirement and a legally accepted reason for ending your marriage.
You may not get a divorce in Florida unless either you or your spouse resided in the state for at least six months immediately before you filed the initial divorce papers. You'll need to prove this to the court at the final hearing on your divorce, either with documentation (such as a Florida driver's license or voter registration card) or a sworn statement ("Affidavit of Corroborating Witness") from someone who knows you've lived in Florida for the required time period. (Fla. Stat. §§ 61.021, 61.052 (2022).)
When you file for divorce in Florida, you must state the legal reason for ending your marriage. Florida is strictly a "no-fault divorce" state, meaning that the law allows only two grounds for divorce, neither of which involve accusing your spouse of wrongdoing. The vast majority of divorcing couples will simply declare that their marriage is "irretrievably broken," meaning they can't get along and there's no reasonable prospect of that changing.
In rare cases, you may also file for divorce in Florida on the ground that your spouse has been mentally incapacitated for at least three years before the divorce process begins. You'll need to attach a copy of the court's "Judgment of Incapacity." (Fla. Stat. § 61.052 (2022).)
In order to start the divorce process in Florida, you'll file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the circuit court clerk's office in the county where you and your spouse last lived together with the shared intention of staying married. (Fla. Stat. § 47.011 (2022); Butler v. Butler, 866 So.2d 1280 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2004).)
There are different versions of the dissolution petition, depending on whether you:
To help residents navigate the divorce process, Florida courts have a website that provides the forms you'll need, as well as instructions and additional divorce information. The instructions will tell you what other forms you might need to file along with the petition.
Florida courts charge a fee to file a divorce petition. The exact amount varies slightly from county to county, but you can expect to pay around $400.
If you can't afford to pay the fee, you may apply for a waiver. When you're filing the petition, submit an Application for Determination of Civil Indigent Status. (You can get the form online or from the court clerk.) Based on the information you've provided about your income, assets, and debts, the clerk will determine if you're eligible for a waiver. You may request a review by a judge if you've been denied. Even if you get a waiver for the filing fee, you'll have to pay a small administrative fee (which also varies from county to county.)
After you've filed your initial divorce papers, the process of getting a final divorce in Florida depends primarily on whether your case is contested or uncontested.
In an uncontested divorce, the spouses have agreed about all the issues involved in ending their marriage, including:
Many couples attempt to settle any disputes before they file for divorce, often with the help of mediation. That way, once they have a marital settlement agreement, they can attach the signed agreement (on the appropriate Florida form, depending on their circumstances) to the dissolution petition—and the rest of the divorce process will be relatively simple. (Also, if couples have a settlement agreement, they may use an online divorce service that will provide them with the correct, completed forms and basically walk them through the process.)
Here are the basic steps for a regular uncontested divorce in Florida:
Florida also has a streamlined uncontested divorce procedure known as a "Simplified Dissolution of Marriage." But you must meet all the following requirements to use this procedure:
Because you will both sign the "Simplified Dissolution of Marriage Petition," you can skip the steps for serving and answering the petition. Depending on the county, you'll either request a hearing date, or the court clerk will simply give you a date. (Fla. Fam. Law Rules Proc., rules 12.105, 12.901(a) (2022).)
Your Florida divorce will be considered contested when you and your spouse have disputes over any issues in your case, such as child custody and parenting time (visitation), child support, alimony, or property and debt distribution.
The courts in Florida attempt to help couples resolve their disputes as their divorce case proceeds, and judges may require them to participate in mediation of certain issues. Most couples manage to reach agreement on the issues at some point during the divorce process (usually with the help of their lawyers, a mediator, or both). But if they don't, they'll have to go to trial to have a judge decide the issues for them.
Some disputes are more difficult to resolve than others. Without an agreement, Florida law will guide judges in their decisions on these issues:
Contested divorces tend to be very expensive. The cost of divorce climbs as cases drag on without a settlement—and the total bills are the highest for couples who need a trial to resolve those issues.
Florida law requires only a 20-day waiting period before the court may enter a final dissolution judgment—starting from the date you file your initial divorce papers. (Fla. Stat. § 61.19 (2022).) But not many divorces are finalized that quickly. The amount of time it will take in your case will largely depend on the type of divorce:
You certainly have the right to represent yourself in your divorce. But whether you should do that is a different matter. Self-representation (known as appearing "pro se") is most practical when you have an uncontested case, or you have no minor or dependent children and very few assets. But in situations where you have custody disputes or a significant amount of property, you may be better off retaining an attorney. Divorce laws can be quite complicated. A qualified divorce lawyer will know the intricacies of the law, as well as the ins-and-outs of the court system.
Remember, you're likely going to have to live with the results of your case well after the divorce is over. If, down the road, you realize you made a mistake, there's no guarantee you'll be able to correct it. So it pays to get it right the first time.