Florida is a no-fault divorce state, meaning you do not have to demonstrate grounds for a divorce or prove fault such as abandonment or neglect, but only that the marriage is irretrievably broken or that one party is mentally incapacitated.
A divorce from a short-term marriage with little or no marital property and no minor children is relatively easy to obtain while a dissolution for a marital relationship of long duration, with considerable assets and liabilities, and/or one with minor children is much more involved.
For any type of divorce in Florida, there are certain essential steps in obtaining one.
Before you can get a divorce in a Florida court, you must have resided here for at least 6 months before you file a petition. Venue is proper in the county where the marriage was last intact, but the parties can agree to file in any Florida county. There may be issues regarding residency if a spouse is only working in Florida but lives elsewhere or has had no intention of residing here. If this is an issue, consult with a Florida divorce attorney about your options regarding filing.
The filing spouse typically files in the county where he or she lives. If you are not sure if you want to divorce or feel the marriage is worth saving, do not file but try to seek counseling with either a marriage counselor or professional trained in this area. Your attorney can refer you to one or to certain organizations that may be able to assist you.
If you wish to move forward, you must complete a petition for dissolution that contains what you wish the court to order should it proceed to trial, including certain property or even sole custody of the minor children. If your marriage lasted a number of years and you have assets, liabilities and minor children, you should seriously consider consulting with a Florida divorce lawyer regarding your legal rights and options. If you are the non-filing spouse who was served with the petition, consult with an attorney over what is contained in the petition and what you are legally entitled to claim including alimony and the equitable distribution of all assets and liabilities. Your attorney may feel that a counter-petition for dissolution is warranted.
Financial Affidavit and Child Support Guidelines Worksheet
If you or your spouse is seeking financial relief, both of you must file a financial affidavit regarding full disclosure of your income, assets and liabilities along with a child support guidelines worksheet if child support is being requested. Many spouses attempt to hide sources of income or certain assets, and usually only a resourceful divorce attorney can uncover assets or other income that should have been disclosed, or question the value of certain assets or origin of particular liabilities. The worksheet contains the guideline amounts to be used when calculating child support.
The Equitable Distribution of Property
An important step in the process is the distribution of your property. A number of states have community property laws where assets and liabilities are divided on whether it was acquired before or during the marriage or was primarily for the benefit of one party over another. Florida is an equitable distribution of property state, though the courts will generally award one spouse property that they brought into the marriage as being non-marital.
Assets consist of real property but also personal property such as stocks, retirement accounts, boats, bank accounts, jewelry, collections, and anything else of value. Liabilities are anything that you owe. Under Florida law, any assets or liabilities acquired during the marriage are subject to being divided regardless of which party claims title, based on the equities pertaining to the property such as who derived the most benefit from it or contributed the most to its value, which spouse is in need of it, or who was responsible for incurring certain liabilities.
You should strive to draft an acceptable agreement regarding the distribution of the assets and liabilities, as this step is vital in keeping your legal costs down and in expediting the process.
Should there be Alimony?
If alimony is an issue, the court must decide if it is warranted, in what amount and for how long. There are numerous types of alimony including rehabilitative (which provides a spouse funds to go to school or job training), bridge-the-gap (which helps the financial burden from married to single life), permanent alimony, durational alimony (when permanent alimony is not appropriate), and temporary alimony (to be awarded during the litigation). The duration of the marriage, standard of living, ability to earn income or go to school, health and other factors are considered.
Determining Child Custody
Parental responsibility for the minor children is based on what is in the child’s best interests, or from a list of factors the court reviews in approving or devising a parenting plan to determine time sharing, obligations and the decision making affecting the children’s general welfare. Parents have to attend a mandatory parenting class. Support payments are based on a child support guidelines worksheet which includes incomes, health insurance payments, childcare costs, to name a few. Deviations from the guidelines can be requested.