Florida Divorce Laws

If you live in Florida and are thinking about divorce, familiarizing yourself with Florida divorce law is an important first step. And if you’re considering representing yourself, it’s not just important . . . it’s crucial.

By , Retired Judge

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 Laws on Qualifying for Divorce

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.

Residency Requirement for a Florida Divorce

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).)

Grounds for Divorce in Florida

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).)

How to Start a Divorce in Florida

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:

  • are filing for a simplified dissolution of marriage (more on that below)
  • have minor children with your spouse, or
  • don't have kids but have property with your spouse.

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.

The Cost of Filing for Divorce in Florida

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.)

Overview of the Divorce Process in Florida

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.

Uncontested Divorces in Florida

In an uncontested divorce, the spouses have agreed about all the issues involved in ending their marriage, including:

  • how they'll divide their marital property and debts
  • whether one spouse will pay alimony and if so, how much and for how long, and
  • if they have minor children together, their arrangements for child custody, visitation, and child support.

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:

  • Serving the petition. The spouse who starts the process (the "petitioner") by filing the dissolution petition must serve the other spouse (the "respondent") with the divorce papers.
  • Answering the petition. The respondent will usually file an Answer, Waiver, and Request for Copy of Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage, to show agreement with everything in the petition and get a copy of the final divorce papers without having to appear at a hearing. If the respondent hasn't filed an answer within 20 days, the petitioner may request a default divorce by filing a Motion for Default. (Fla. Fam. Law Rules Proc., rules 12.140, 12.500 (2022).)
  • Financial disclosures. Both spouses might have to file a "Family Law Financial Affidavit" (either with the petition and response or within 45 days after the petition was served), depending on their circumstances. The affidavits aren't required if the spouses don't have minor children or support issues, and their settlement agreement has resolved all of their financial issues, or if they're filing for a simplified dissolution (as discussed below).
  • Parent education. All Florida couples with minor children must completed a Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course before their divorce is final. (Fla. Stat. § 61.21 (2022).)
  • Final hearing. If you're the petitioner, you should contact the court clerk to schedule a final divorce hearing and find out what additional forms to bring to the hearing (along with proof that you meet Florida's residency requirement for divorce). You'll need to attend the hearing and answer attend the hearing. The judge will review the paperwork and, if everything is in order, will sign your final divorce judgment.

Simplified Dissolution 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:

  • you and your spouse agree that the marriage can't be saved
  • you and your spouse have no minor or dependent children together, and none are on the way
  • you and your spouse are satisfied with your agreement on how to divide your property and allocate responsibility for paying your debts
  • neither of you is seeking alimony from the other
  • you're both willing to give up your right to a trial and to appeal your divorce judgment
  • you're both willing to go into the court clerk's office to sign the petition (although not necessarily at the same time), and
  • you and your spouse are both willing to go to the final court hearing.

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).)

Contested Divorces in Florida

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:

  • Child support. This is usually the easiest issue to resolve, because Florida law provides formulas for calculating child support, which is generally based on the spouses' income and the amount of time a child will spend with each parent.
  • Child custody. Parents often find it more difficult to agree about custody and parenting time, in part because these issues can be so emotionally charged. Settlement can be further complicated by any allegations—or documented history—of spousal or child abuse (domestic violence) by either parent. The bottom line is that Florida child custody laws require judges to make sure that custody agreements and orders are in the best interests of the children. (Fla. Stat. § 61.13(2)(c) (2022).)
  • Property and debts. Florida law requires an "equitable division" of your marital property and debts. That means that the judge will decide what's fair under the circumstances of your case. Unlike what you'd see in a "community property" state like California, equitable distribution doesn't necessarily result in a 50-50 split.
  • Alimony. Florida law provides for different types of alimony, but it's not a given in any divorce. When a couple hasn't agreed on this issue, a judge may award alimony if one spouse can show a financial need and the other spouse has the ability to pay. The judge will look at a number of factors to determine whether alimony is warranted, such as the length of the marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, and each spouse's age and mental health. (Fla. Stat. § 61.08(2) (2022).)

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.

How Long Does a Divorce Take in Florida?

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:

  • With a simplified dissolution, you may request a final hearing as soon as you've filed your initial paperwork. Typically, you'll be able to get a final hearing in about 30 days, but it can depend on how busy the court is in your county.
  • Regular uncontested divorces take somewhat longer, in part because of the additional time required to serve your spouse and give your spouse time to respond (20 days). These cases usually take somewhere between two to four months to conclude.
  • Contested divorces typically take considerably longer—from six months to a year or more—depending on the complexity of the case, how long it takes a couple to try to work out a settlement, and whether they have to go to trial.

Should You Represent Yourself in a Florida 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.

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