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Florida Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers In Florida
In Florida, divorce is referred to as Dissolution, and the spouse filing for divorce is the petitioner; the other spouse is the respondent.
Dissolutions are filed in the Circuit Court. Each Circuit Court in Florida (which is comprised of one or more counties) may have requirements other than what is listed below, so the party filing the action should always check to find out what additional steps may be required. An experienced family law attorney can also give advice.
The first form to complete when filing for divorce is the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The petition lists all issues the court should consider, such as dividing assets and debts, child custody, child support and alimony. The rest of the divorce papers will be filed following the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, which is the document that officially asks the court for the "divorce".
Filing the Paperwork with the Florida Court
Filing means the petitioner gives the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage to the clerk’s office of the circuit court for the county. The petition must be notarized before filing; most courthouses have a notary present who does this for a fee. The petitioner gives a copy of the signed and notarized petition to the clerk, along with the filing fee for a dissolution of marriage. The clerk returns a copy with a date stamp and notation showing that it has been filed with the court. The petitioner keeps a copy of the petition and an additional copy to serve on the respondent.
Serving the Divorce Papers in Florida
The petitioner must serve the respondent a copy of the filed petition for dissolution. Serving the petition means giving a copy to the respondent. There are a number of ways to serve the respondent.
If the respondent agrees, the spouse or the spouse’s attorney accepts service. The spouse or attorney completes a form available in the clerk’s office called an Answer and Waiver of Service. This form must be signed and notarized.
Disclosing Financial Information
Florida requires the petitioner to present the respondent with a completed and signed financial affidavit within 45 days of the date the petition for dissolution of marriage is served. A blank financial affidavit is available in the circuit court clerk’s office. The types of information and documents include income, assets, debts, tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, personal financial statements, and any other documentation containing financial information that the respondent or the court should know about before the divorce.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
Florida offers a Simplified Dissolution Procedure, which may be completed in as little as three weeks (depending upon the court’s docket backlog). The simplified procedure is available when there are no minor or dependent children, the wife is not pregnant, the spouses agree on the property and debt division, and both spouses sign the court papers and attend the final court hearing.
The action begins by filing either a Petition for Simplified Dissolution of Marriage or a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in the Circuit Court. In the simplified procedure, or an uncontested divorce procedure (when there are children), the petitioner, and sometimes the respondent, must attend a court hearing. The judge questions both spouses to be sure each understands and agree to everything, and enters either a Final Judgment Dissolving Marriage Under Simplified Procedure or a Final Judgment Dissolving Marriage.
The parties should be certain that everything is agreed upon, however, before filing for a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage, because he or she surrenders rights he or she otherwise has like cross-examining the respondent, or asking for financial documents. A simplified dissolution of marriage also requires the parties to prepare and sign a settlement agreement that covers property and debt division.
In a contested divorce, the court must deal with the division of the marital estate as well as alimony, child custody and child support
Finalizing the Divorce
When both spouses agree on everything, a Florida divorce becomes final quickly.
If children are present and significant property division issues are part of the divorce, even in uncontested cases the process can take 3 months. If there are no complicated issues to resolve a couple can get divorced in as few as 30 days. Twenty of those days are the minimum amount of time that must pass after the papers are filed with the clerk of the court. After that, it depends on the caseload and scheduling of the individual county court as to how fast the papers are processed.
Florida requires an equitable distribution of the marital property (what is fair, not necessarily equal). Each spouse keeps the property and debts that belonged to them before the marriage. Each spouse also keeps any property received as a gift or inheritance, or any property that the spouses agree to divide in a written agreement. Any property that was acquired before the spouses married or that was received as a gift or inheritance is not considered marital property. If the spouses cannot come to an agreement, a court will divide the property and the debt.
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