Deciding to separate or divorce is an often complicated and overwhelming experience. If you or your spouse have decided the time is right to end your marriage, knowing how to proceed can help make the divorce process as quick and stress-free as possible.
Even the most amicable divorces involve some level of emotional complexity, particularly when children are involved. The best way to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible is to decide early on to keep it more peaceful, fair, and drama-free. While that is often easier said than done, these upfront steps can help as you proceed with this life-changing decision.
Grounds for Divorce in Florida
Florida is what’s known as a “no-fault” divorce state. Its 1971 Dissolution of Marriage Act offers couples a pathway to a divorce where neither party is legally at fault. Even if you experienced adultery, abuse, or desertion, it is not necessary to prove it in court to dissolve your marriage.
Florida no-fault divorces are typically granted in two scenarios:
- The marriage is irretrievably broken, which means the parties are unable to work out their problems and no longer wish to remain married. Other terms you might hear to describe this situation are “incompatibility” and “irreconcilable differences.”
- One of the parties is incapacitated. After the spouse is evaluated, the court determines whether divorce proceedings can move forward. It must also appoint a guardian ad litem or advocate to protect and defend the incapacitated spouse’s interests if none exists other than the spouse.
The Different Types of Divorce in Florida
No-fault divorce makes it less difficult to obtain a divorce, but how long your divorce takes depends on which type you choose.
Florida recognizes three types of divorce.
Simplified Dissolution of Marriage
Simplified divorces in Florida generally take 30 days, which is why they’re often referred to as ‘quick” divorces. They are available to couples who have:
- Lived in Florida for at least six months.
- Agreed to the terms of the divorce.
- No children.
- Agreed to not seek alimony.
Uncontested divorces in Florida can typically be concluded within four to six weeks. Couples eligible for an uncontested divorce must agree to every detail of the marriage dissolution agreement, including items related to:
- Child support
- Parenting responsibilities
- Division of property and debt
Depending on the complexities of the dispute, contested divorces in Florida often take six months to a year or even longer. In these cases, the court decides on issues such as parental responsibility, child support, asset division, and more.
Although most contested divorces do not end up in a trial, the process can take much more time to finalize, as it involves:
- Filing a petition for dissolution of marriage
- Filing an answer
- Filing any other required paperwork
- Agreed-to parenting plans
No matter which type of divorce you decide to pursue, it’s in your best interests to speak with a family law attorney about your options and what to expect.
How to Prepare for Divorce in Florida
Deciding to divorce is a serious decision, so before you take the plunge, there are several things to consider before you act. For instance, you might want to find a therapist or family counselor for your children or consult with a lawyer, accountant, or financial planner to learn the best ways to protect your and your child’s future.
Before we begin, keep in mind that it’s best to never threaten a divorce until you’re ready to file, particularly if the other party is against it. Emotional injury and anger can cause people to move assets, try to alienate children, and even start the process before you do. Instead, only file for divorce once you have your affairs in order and have taken the time to make careful and thoughtful plans.
Should you legally separate first?
Not everyone needs to jump right into a divorce, especially couples who harbor some hope of reconciling their differences. In these cases, people can legally separate their finances and property and live apart without fully dissolving the marriage. Whether this time apart preserves the marriage or serves as a lead-up to a divorce, it can be beneficial for some couples to explore this option. Other reasons people choose separation over dissolution include when one spouse relies on the other’s health insurance or other benefits, for religious reasons, or simply for personal preference.
Gather and Organize Important Documents
If you’re certain you want to proceed with a divorce, you should begin now to locate relevant documents like copies of:
- Income tax returns
- Financial statements, including bank, retirement, and other investment statements
- Property deeds
- Life insurance policies
- Marriage license and birth certificates
- Debt paperwork, including mortgages, credit cards, and other loans
- Receipts for major marital assets
You’ll also want to make a list of which items are separate properties. In Florida, property and assets are considered separate if you or your spouse owned them before the marriage or if you acquired them during the marriage as a gift or an inheritance.
Your divorce attorney can advise you on all the documents you’ll need to prepare for your divorce.
Plan for Your Short and Long-term Financial Needs
Some divorces cost more than others. Consulting with a family law attorney will give you a good idea of what you need to set aside to pay for the dissolution.
Beyond that, you want to put together a list of daily expenses so you can determine things like:
- Whether you will remain in the marital property and, if so, who will be responsible for the mortgage, utilities, insurance, and other expenses?
- If you choose to move out, which expenses can you afford to cover on your own, including rent?
- Whether you anticipate receiving temporary or permanent spousal support.
- How childcare expenses will be covered.
It’s always best to know early on whether you will require some financial assistance as you go through your divorce. Making a budget and planning for essential expenses can alleviate some of the stress that often accompanies financial matters.
Learn About Divorce Mediation
Once you file a petition for divorce in Florida, your spouse has 20 days to respond. After the 20 days are up, the parties must meet for mediation to try and come to an agreement on matters like child and spousal support and property division.
Although the court can waive the mediation process, it’s actually one of the best and most cost-effective tools a family law attorney can use to ensure a successful divorce process. That’s because the sooner a divorcing couple can agree on support and asset division issues, the less likely the divorce is to drag on. It can also be extremely effective in keeping the lines of communication open over child-related matters.
Not every divorce lawyer is skilled in helping clients reach a settlement through mediation. And while no attorney can guarantee a particular outcome, working with one who understands the mediation process thoroughly will help you achieve the best results and the relief you seek.
Put Children First
If you and your spouse have one or more children, putting their emotional and physical needs ahead of your own is crucial. Most children are sensitive to change, and their parents getting a divorce is scary for many. Children’s feelings during the divorce process range from anger to guilt and sadness to confusion and all must be dealt with in as healthy a way as possible.
Ways to put children first in a divorce so they’re protected from any adverse effects include:
- If possible, tell them about the divorce together.
- Share only what they need to know, including that both parents will continue to love them and everything will be okay.
- Avoid constant talk of the divorce in front of them. But do answer their questions and reassure them you will let them know if new information emerges.
- Don’t talk disrespectfully about your spouse in front of the children, no matter how tempting it might be.
- Consider therapy or support groups for children who need someone outside the immediate family with whom they can talk through their feelings.
- Choose mediation to answer questions like how will college be paid for, how will parenting schedule changes be handled, and what happens if one parent decides to move out of state.
Quick Facts About Divorce in Florida
These topics are some of the ones we most frequently get asked about regarding Florida divorce law.
For people who have prenups drafted in Florida or another state, so long as the agreement doesn’t violate Florida law, the court could allow it to take precedence over state guidelines for issues like spousal support and property division.
Cannot locate a spouse
If your spouse has gone missing, you can still get a divorce in Florida, provided you’ve resided in the state for at least six months prior to filing. The only requirement is that you make a “good faith” attempt to locate your spouse.
Florida family law courts use several factors in deciding if spousal support or alimony is “well-founded,” including:
- Age and health condition of each spouse.
- The length of the marriage. Less than seven years is considered a short-term marriage, and one that lasts more than 17 years is regarded as a long-term one.
- One or the other party’s ability to pay support.
- The standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.
- Each spouse’s needs.
Child custody and support
In determining child custody and support, Florida courts consider what is in “the best interest of the child” and whether the parents can reach an agreement about custody. Even in cases where the children will live with one parent more often than the other, the court, unless persuaded otherwise, generally assigns both parents joint custody, with each sharing all child responsibilities.
Florida guidelines for child support are strict and include:
- Each parent’s income.
- The number of children.
- Daycare expenses.
- Expenses for special needs or disabled children.
- Healthcare and insurance expenses for each child.
Few divorces go to trial, but it does occur, usually in cases where one party refuses to agree on anything that has to do with child support, property division, and spousal support.
If you reach a point in your divorce process where several or all issues aren’t solvable by you and your spouse, a family law judge will decide them for you. Given the delays and often exorbitant expenses associated with any trial, the best divorce strategy is to avoid one at all costs. The only time one is appropriate is when the difference between an equitable settlement and your spouse’s position justifies the time and expense involved.
Unfortunately, divorce court judges can and do make mistakes or render unfair decisions. In that case, you would need to spend more time and money pursuing an appeal.
Obtain The Best Legal Advice for Your Florida Divorce
Each divorce is different, and there’s no “best” way to approach one. Discussing your situation with a family lawyer before you make any major decisions will go a long way in helping you navigate this difficult time.
When choosing a divorce lawyer, it’s important to research whether they have the reputation and skills to assist you in reaching a fair agreement with your spouse. And unless you and your spouse are pursuing a simplified divorce, it’s best to ignore any advice, particularly from your spouse, to not seek legal counsel.
Cobb Cole provides thorough counsel on a full range of family law matters, including separation, divorce, child custody and support, parental rights, and more. We understand that many of our clients have never dealt with the challenging and complex issues they’re facing with a divorce. Our family law attorneys take a strong, compassionate, and skillful approach to all types of divorce issues. We listen carefully to your concerns and fears and are committed to building a tailored divorce legal strategy that achieves the best possible results for you and your children.
Contact us today to learn more about Florida’s separation and divorce process and how our Firm can help you bring your case to a favorable conclusion.