There are times when the damage done to a marriage is irretrievable. The circumstances leading up to this decision are unique to each couple and can result in anything from legal separation to divorce.

So long as you lived in Florida for more than six months, you qualify to begin the divorce process in this state. Below is a quick guide to gain knowledge about the steps involved in the Florida divorce process from initial filing to final paperwork.

The Two Types of Divorce Process

When people begin the process of separating from their spouse, they frequently believe divorce to be the only option. This is not necessarily the case.

In the state of Florida, two types of divorce proceedings are available: divorce and a simplified dissolution of marriage.

A divorce is a contested proceeding, meaning the parties do not agree on the terms being set forth to dissolve their marriage. A contested divorce is also proper in situations where minor children are involved to secure their proper care.

A simplified dissolution of marriage is an uncontested proceeding, meaning the parties agree on how to separate assets. Further, in simplified dissolutions, neither party seeks alimony, nor are any minor children or current pregnancies involved.

Regardless of which proceeding is needed, the correct forms need to be filed with the Court as outlined below.

Misconduct is not a Requirement

Before beginning the filing process, some individuals wonder if they need to prove spousal misconduct in order to qualify for a divorce. Because Florida is a “no-fault” state, marital misconduct is not a requirement of dissolution.

Even so, there are still recognized grounds for divorce in the state of Florida such as the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage and mental incapacitation. For more information on either of the above, see our article on the topic here.

Taking the First Step: Filing the Petition

In a divorce, the party who files first is called the petitioner and the party who subsequently answers is called the respondent. These will be the terms used going forward to describe either one part of the other.

Divorce proceedings cannot begin without first filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in the circuit court. The petitioner can either file these papers in the circuit court where they last lived with their spouse, or, in the circuit where they are currently living.

The petition is a way to formally ask the Court to grant a divorce proceeding. What, specifically, is included in the initial petition will vary based on each person and will be discussed with your attorney. After this discussion, a draft of the petition will be provided to you for review and then, pending approval, filed in the court system.

Submitting the Answer

Once the petition is filed, it is served on the opposite spouse– now the respondent.

The respondent has 20 days to reply to the petitioner’s initial filing. In their reply, the respondent must address the contents of the petition, whether or not they agree, and bring forth any additional matters not previously addressed by the petitioner.

Marital Assets and Financial Affidavits

One of the main goals of dissolution is to fairly distribute assets between parties. As Florida is not a community property state, where no agreements can be reached, the judge ultimately decides how to split assets between spouses.

Within the first 45 days of filing response, both parties must submit a financial affidavit as an initial disclosure of discovery material. This form outlines the expenses of than individual, their income, in addition to what kinds of added compensation (spousal maintenance and child support) either party is looking to receive.

When minor children are involved, child support documents are also due for completion at this time. This includes completing and filing child support worksheets, as well as an affidavit as required by the Uniform Child Custody Enforcement Act.

After these forms are submitted, both parties can use their better discretion on how to continue the discovery process. This can include relevant information in the form of requests for production, interrogatories, and depositions.

Conducting Discovery

The discovery process is one in which each party can discover and provide information to the other side. Generally, this information comes in the form of disclosures– documents where information is willingly given upon request to the opposing party so long as it is relevant to the case. The most common discovery material is that which pertains to marital assets and income.

In some cases, the discovery process also includes depositions– a period of time in which the opposing party is questioned for information regarding the case.

The Custody Schedule

When determining a child custody arrangement, the proposed parenting plan must be submitted to– and approved by– a judge.

The reason for this is to ensure the final plan reflects what is in the best interest of the child. When two able parents exist, judges will try to split the parenting schedule and responsibilities in which a way where the child is able to be in contact with both of their parents regularly. When extenuating circumstances such as substance abuse, domestic violence, or inability to properly care for a child arise, there is a higher likelihood for a single parent to get custody.

The Court cannot proceed with a dissolution of marriage unless such plans have been made and agreed upon.

Mediation is Mandatory

Barring instances where domestic violence is present, most districts in Florida mandate mediation.

Mediation will occur after all other forms, discovery, and childcare plans have been brought to the Court’s attention. This allows both sides to have a comprehensive view of their case, what they want, and how they can meet in the middle.

Successful mediations help both spouses avoid the added cost and emotional burden that often accompanies trying a case in court.

When Parties Can’t Agree: The Trial

When even the best attempts at mediation fail, the parties will try their respective cases and allow a judge to make the final order.

Trials are turn-based with each side being given an equal amount of time to put forth their case, discovery information, and requests before the Court. After each side has made its case, the judge will make a final judgement about any contested issues that remain.

Once the order is entered, the divorce is final and cannot be changed.

Further Resources

As you begin your divorce process, countless questions are bound to arise. For this, an experienced family attorney is the best option– guiding though through divorce forms, financial disclosures, and everything though your final judgement.

As a full-service family law firm in West Palm Beach, Dave Roy Law can support you through each stage of your divorce. Call us at (561) 729-0095 for an initial consultation and begin learning what options exist for you.