Getting a divorce is often one of the most stressful events of a person’s life—especially if you have friends or family who don’t support your decision—and that stress can become even worse if there are children, pets, or other items of contention involved, such as a home or vehicle. But you have to do what’s best for you, and sometimes that means moving on from a marriage that isn’t working.
“Divorce isn’t such a tragedy. A tragedy’s staying in an unhappy marriage, teaching your children the wrong things about love. Nobody ever died of divorce.”
— Jennifer Weiner
This guide to filing for divorce in Florida (including a step-by-step infographic) will answer your questions about Florida divorces, help you determine which type of divorce you’ll want to file, and provide you with the steps you’ll need to take to legally end your marriage. If you have any other questions about filing for divorce in Florida or want to speak with a divorce lawyer about your situation, give us a call at 386-222-6677.
First things first:
Dissolution of marriage is the legal ending of a marriage through a court—in other words, it's a divorce.
Either spouse can file for divorce in Florida.
If you’re filling for divorce in Florida, you’ll see it referred to as a “dissolution” or “dissolution of marriage” on your legal forms. Like many other states, Florida has abolished fault as a ground for dissolution of marriage, meaning you do not have to prove that your spouse did something that led to the dissolution.
That being said, the court will often consider infidelity, cruel treatment, and certain other faults when deciding the details of your divorce, such as:
Keep in mind as you journey through the divorce process that the parties, facts, and circumstances of each divorce case are unique, so even if you know someone who got divorced under similar circumstances to your situation, there is no guarantee that your divorce will have the same outcomes.
A divorce, or dissolution of marriage, will provide legal decisions on a variety of things related to your marriage, including:
If you’re concerned about child support, you can check out our Child Support Calculator to get a free estimate of how much child support you may be eligible to receive—or required to pay—according to the State of Florida.
In order to file for divorce in Florida, you will need to prove that a marriage exists between yourself and your spouse, that at least one of you have been a resident of Florida for at least six months, and that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” (If your spouse has been mentally incapacitated for three years, the State will accept that as a ground for dissolution as well.) From there, you will either file a simplified dissolution of marriage or a regular dissolution of marriage.
There are a number of significant differences between a simplified dissolution of marriage and a regular dissolution of marriage, which you can read about below. However, it can be particularly important to note the following differences:
Depending on the circumstances surrounding your marriage and pending divorce, it may be possible to have a simple (uncontested) divorce. In order to pursue a simplified dissolution of marriage, at least one of you must have lived in Florida for at least six months leading up to the dissolution, and you must both:
The key trait of a simplified dissolution of marriage is agreement; both parties must be in agreement about the divorce and will petition the State together as “petitioners.” For this reason, you will give up your right to trial and right to appeal the final court decision. The simplified dissolution of marriage is the most amicable way to file for divorce in Florida since you and your spouse can dissolve your marriage as peacefully as is possible.
If you and your spouse cannot (or will not) agree on your marital asset and marital debt divisions, or if you have children under 18, you will be facing a regular (contested) divorce.
Think you’re ready to file for divorce? Here are the steps you’ll have to complete to officially end your marriage in the eyes of the State of Florida:
Reminder: Filing divorce documents with the Clerk’s Office will typically cost you a fee. If you are unable to pay the fee, you can ask the Clerk for a waiver.
An uncontested divorce is referred to as a “simple” divorce for a reason—the steps are simple, dividing your assets and debts is simple, and finalizing your divorce is simple.
To file an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse must complete a Petition for Simplified Dissolution of Marriage. You should also complete a Marital Settlement Agreement together, so your decisions on marital asset and debt division are recorded in writing.
You’ll file the completed and signed Petition and Marital Settlement Agreement with the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. You should file these documents together and in the county where either you or your spouse lives.
Not long after you file your paperwork, you’ll go to a brief hearing together where a judge will make sure your marriage meets the requirements for a simplified divorce, review the paperwork you filed, and sign a final judgement to make your divorce official.
If the division of your assets and debts has already been completed, you can leave the courthouse without any more obligations to fulfill for your divorce, and start living your new life!
When you and your spouse aren't able to agree on the terms of your divorce, or when there are minor or dependant children involved, you'll need to file a regular divorce.
With a regular Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, one of you will complete one of three forms—depending on whether or not you have minor children, dependent children, or property to divide—and file it with the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office in the county that either you or your spouse live.
Have you ever heard someone say they’ve been “served”? When you’re filing for divorce, you have to provide your spouse with the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that you filed with the Clerk. This action is referred to as “service” and is often called “serving” your petition. In this step, you’ll prepare the Summons for the Clerk.
You’ll need to complete the following affidavits for your divorce:
Why do I have to complete these forms?
The Social Security Affidavit is required to make it easier for each party to subpoena financial and employment records without intervention from the court. The Non-Military / Military Affidavit is where you testify as to whether the respondent (your spouse) is in the military or not.
If you have any minor children with your spouse, the UCCJEA Affidavit will need to be filed in order to determine your and your spouse’s custody, time-sharing, or visitation rights after the divorce.
This affidavit is required regardless of whether or not you and your spouse own property. In the Florida Family Law Financial Affidavit, you will need to provide your:
If your individual annual gross income is less than $50,000, you will file the Short Form. If it is over $50,000, you will file the Long Form.
Be sure to include any and all financial information that your spouse or the court should know about. You will need to complete a Certificate of Compliance With Mandatory Disclosure along with your financial affidavit, swearing that you’ve supplied all of the required financial documentation to your spouse.
You will need to complete a Marital Settlement Agreement to cover your and your spouse’s minor children, dependent children, and/or property. This step will cover child custody, child support, time-sharing, alimony payments, property transfers, etc.
The goal of a divorce in Florida is that all of your assets and liabilities will be equitably distributed. The court will consider your and your spouse’s economic circumstances and contributions to the marriage, such as care for your children and maintenance of your home.
While every step of the divorce process is important, this step can be particularly crucial for any spouse who is dependent on their soon-to-be ex. Among the decisions that will be made regarding your divorce is alimony. Also called “spousal support,” alimony is a form of court-ordered financial support from one spouse to the other after their divorce.
There are many factors that go into determining alimony in Florida. If you think you may qualify for alimony, we recommend contacting a divorce lawyer to make sure you receive the full amount of alimony you qualify for.
Take all of your completed divorce paperwork to the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office in the county where either you or your spouse live and file your Petition (and supporting documents) with the Clerk.
Once the Clerk signs the Summons, the process server will be able to serve your spouse (now the defendant) with the required paperwork in accordance with the State’s divorce laws. Your spouse will have 20 days to answer the Petition once they’ve been served.
During the divorce hearing, you and your spouse will appear before a judge (or mediator, depending on your situation). If you have not yet reached an agreement on all matters of your divorce, the judge may use this hearing to explain family court proceedings and schedule your next court date.
Once the judge signs the final judgement, also known as the final order of divorce or divorce decree, your divorce will be final and your marriage will officially end.
We created the above infographic on how to get a divorce, but does that mean you should do it alone?
If you truly have a simplified dissolution without any large assets, martial debt, or kids, I would say you probably can. However, if you and your spouse haven’t worked everything out, have large assets (a house, car, 401k, bitcoin, etc.), or have kids together (or on the way), then I would not suggest doing this alone.
I’ve seen a fair amount of clients come in a couple of years or even many years after an initial divorce action was done and granted by the court. The clients come in asking for a modification or clarification of the original divorce because something wasn’t thought of. These are often glaring mistakes to someone who practices in the field.
Unfortunately, oftentimes those clients spend more money fixing the mistakes they made because they did not have an attorney for their initial divorce. To their credit, many times they don’t even know they were making a mistake because they thought they knew how to cover it on their own.
I’ve seen this in things as simple as equitable distribution. For example, you and your soon-to-be-ex have assets and debts, and you agree to split them all 50/50. You write it up and sign it. Done! Right? Wrong.
If you haven’t outlined each and every asset individually and assigned a value to it (even on things that are difficult to do, such as a non-vested asset) you will be re-litigating your equitable distribution for years to come. Neither of you will have felt like you won and you will spend thousands of dollars which didn’t need to be spent.
This is especially devastating when children are involved. Divorce lawyers have spent hours upon hours learning what is needed for the court, the schools, and for people’s lives when it comes to creating a “parenting plan.” They aren’t mandatory but they make your life and your future so much easier. A seasoned divorce attorney is going to want to sit down with you and craft a parenting plan which will last for many years and hopefully account for the foreseeable future. This is the kind of thing that you on your own may think you can do, but in reality may not be able to do.
For example, I have had parents who say, “Well, we split time like this and we want to do it like that when they start grade school.” That is great, but what if one of you moves within the 50 miles allowable but it changes the school district you’re zoned for? What then? Have you talked about it? Probably not. But your lawyer will have thought of it and addressed it in a good parenting plan. What about holidays? Those are a beast for intact families, but when it comes to not killing yourself, your ex, or God forbid your kids during those stressful and loved holidays, you need to address them.
Ultimately, I do not recommend you get a divorce on your own. Even if you think you know how to do the steps, no one wants to see you having to re-litigate your divorce over and over because of mistakes that could easily be avoided.
Going through a divorce on your own can be confusing and difficult, and the outcome of your divorce will impact the rest of your life, for better or for worse. You may be wondering whether or not you should sign certain forms, who will get the kids, or how to keep the house.
Without proper legal assistance, you may not know your legal rights or obligations. The court clerks and judges can answer some of your basic questions, but they cannot give you legal advice. You also won’t have your spouse to turn to, and their lawyer will only be looking out for your spouse’s best interests—not yours.
That’s why we always recommend that anyone going through a divorce hires their own Florida divorce attorney. Protect what’s best for yourself and your children. Give us a call at 386-222-6677. Our compassionate and experienced divorce attorneys will help you through every step of the divorce process and fight for your rights.