What to Know Before You File for Divorce in Florida
No one enters a marriage planning to one day get divorced. However, if you find yourself in a marriage that is irretrievably broken and decide you want to end things, it’s time to take the proper steps to protect yourself and your assets.
Filing for divorce triggers a domino effect of other decisions you’ll have to make. The list is long, and the process isn’t always easy. But the more you know going into it, the easier it will be.
How to File for Divorce in Florida
Begin by thinking through a few key factors that will have a major impact on the terms of your divorce. Consider your assets and liabilities, spousal support, and your arrangements for your children, including a parenting plan and child support.
A smart step to take here is to speak with a qualified, experienced Florida divorce lawyer to learn the basics and how to protect your rights. An experienced divorce lawyer near you will help you protect the well-being of your children, finances, and determine which type of divorce you should file (i.e contested or simplified, etc.).
Read: 4 Types of Divorce in Florida
Protect Your Financial Well-being When Filing for Divorce in Florida
Equitable Distribution of Assets & Liabilities
In Florida, marital assets and liabilities must be divided equally with half going to each spouse. The law requires an equitable distribution of marital assets and/or liability unless there is a legally sufficient justification for an unequal distribution is given based on relevant statutory factors.
If you believe you deserve more than 50% of your shared marital assets, you’ll need to provide admissible evidence documenting your position. Properly documenting your position can be challenging to do especially without the use of expert testimony on the value of your assets.
Also called Alimony, spousal support is the payment you or your ex-spouse receive from the other. If one of you supported the other financially during your marriage, you’ll need spousal support to sustain your cost of living. This is most often the case in marriages where one parent took time off from work to raise children.
There are multiple types of alimony you may be eligible for, including temporary, bridge the gap, rehabilitative, durational, and permanent alimony. There are other terms as far as how much is paid and how payment is delivered. Working with a divorce lawyer will help you get the alimony you deserve on a payment schedule that works.
How to Protect Your Child’s Well-being During the Divorce Process
It’s always better when parents can work out a co-parenting plan and custody arrangement on their own. In Florida, a judge must ratify a custody arrangement. When co-parents agree on an arrangement, the judge will typically accept it.
If you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on how to co-parent, however, the judge will decide what’s in the best interest of the child. See Williams v. Williams.
In Florida, the amount a parent receives in child support is determined by factoring in net income, the number of children involved and the custody arrangement. These factors are straightforward, but Florida divorce law does allow for the court’s discretion if they deem necessary or appropriate.
Even if you and your ex-spouse have divided your assets fairly and determined a workable co-parenting and child support arrangement, it’s still best to consult an experienced Florida divorce lawyer. Why? Divorce laws in Florida, can and do change. You don’t want to be caught by any surprises now or after you’ve filed to dissolve the marriage.
How is Marital Property Divided in a Florida Divorce?
Marital property is most often thought of as the couple’s home, but it includes other types of shared assets. The equitable distribution of assets discussed above requires a look at which assets are marital or jointly owned.
Marital assets include co-owned income; cash; investments like real estate, bitcoin, stocks or retirement accounts; collectibles such as art or antiques; businesses, and more.
Determining an equitable distribution of assets also involves determining which assets are separate – this includes assets owned before the marriage, inheritances, income from separate property that’s not mixed in with marital assets, and any assets purchased or exchanged with separate property.
As with co-parenting and child support, the easiest way to determine the allocation of shared assets is for the couple to reach an agreement together. If an agreement is not met, a judge will make the decision. Because Florida is an equitable distribution state, he or she will determine the fairest way to divide marital assets equally.
Read: How to Divide Marital Assets in Florida During a Divorce
How Do I File A Contested Divorce in Florida?
Once you and your ex-spouse come to an agreement as to how you’ll split your assets and liabilities and have an agreement as to how to proceed with alimony, child support, and child custody, it’s time to formalize the divorce by filing the proper paperwork.
Florida has a Family Courts Resource Page and Self-Help Center with the forms you’ll need to file for divorce. You’ll first file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage form and a Summons form with the court.
Florida is a ‘no-fault divorce’ state, meaning that your Petition for Dissolution needs to simply state that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The distribution of assets, liabilities, alimony, child support, and child custody should be outlined in the petition as well. If there was misconduct that caused the marriage to end, the judge can take that into account when making a final determination about the division of the couple’s jointly owned property, custody, or alimony.
To file for a contested divorce in Florida, either you or your spouse must have lived in the state for more than six months. Some counties in Florida have different forms, so file your forms in your county to ensure you are going through the proper steps.
Fill out each form and sign it in front of a notary. Then, give the signed forms to the clerk’s office of the county circuit court and pay a small filing fee.
Then, you’ll have to serve your spouse a copy of the filed petition. If you’re working with a Florida divorce lawyer, their office can arrange to serve the petition. You may also have a local sheriff hand-deliver the petition or hire a third-party service. Talk to your lawyer if your ex-spouse is in the military, in jail or in a situation where you cannot physically deliver the petition.
Next, your ex-spouse or his or her lawyer needs to accept the petition and complete an Answer and Waiver of Service form which should be notarized and filed with the court.
Finally, you’ll have 45 days from the date you served the petition to sign a financial affidavit along with all of the financial documentation to back up your claims. This typically includes income, bank and credit card statements, tax returns, and any other documents that include financial information.
What Happens When You and Your Spouse Separate or Dissolve a Common-Law Marriage?
Not every spousal break-up is considered a divorce, including some partner relationships where the couple was living together and sharing assets but not legally married. In instances of legal separation or the dissolving of a common-law marriage, some of the rules change and some stay the same.
Legal Separations in Florida
A couple can decide to legally separate without or before filing for divorce. A legal separation is defined as a married couple who decides to live separately. Florida divorce law allows a couple to maintain their marital status and property rights while being legally separated.
If legal separation is the right path for you and your spouse, a post-nuptial agreement can help to ensure that property obtained by one spouse during the separation isn’t included in any eventual divorce action.
Common-Law Marriage Dissolution in Florida
Like a legal separation, a common-law marriage can be a grey area for couples wanting to file for divorce. Florida defines a common-law marriage as a union between a couple without a marriage ceremony, registration or marriage certificate.
Common-law marriage was abolished in 1968, however, the state must recognize common-law marriages that were legally created in another state under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution. Meaning, the marriage is treated as any other legal marriage. Thus, the filing process is the same and both parties have the right to alimony, equal division of assets, child support and child custody as they would if they were legally married.
Other Instances Making Divorce Difficult
Filing for divorce is fairly straightforward when both spouses agree to the terms and cooperate with one another. But, there are instances when filing for divorce is much more difficult.
Circumstances are complicated when one spouse lives outside of the state of Florida or has only maintained residency for fewer than six months.
Florida divorce law requires you to locate and serve your petition for divorce to your spouse. If you can’t locate your spouse, this presents a major complication for your ability to move forward.
If you anticipate these or other complications when you go to file your petition for dissolution of the marriage, discuss your concerns with a qualified Florida divorce lawyer with experience in similar cases.
Find the Right Florida Divorce Lawyer to Help You Navigate the Divorce Process
Contact us today for a free family law case evaluation. We’ll listen to your case and explain your rights. When you’re ready to work with an experienced Florida divorce lawyer to help you file for divorce, please fill out the form on our Contact Us page or give us a call at (954) 880-1302.