A Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce) is an action to terminate the contract of marriage. These matters are governed by the laws of the State of Florida (Florida Statutes) and the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure.
In order to end a marriage, a person must obtain a final judgment from a circuit court dissolving the marriage. In that judgment, all property, support and child-related issues ordinarily will be determined. To obtain that judgment a person must file a petition to start a lawsuit, legally serve (notice) his or her spouse, provide and obtain financial information to and from his or her spouse, if children are involved, take a class, and either have an agreement
and/or parenting plan prepared and brought to the court at an appropriately noticed final hearing or have a trial before a judicial officer at which evidence will be taken to allow the judicial officer to make decisions. A person is not required to have a lawyer to obtain a divorce. However, because this is a legal process with rules and procedures to be followed, it is advisable to obtain legal counsel.
To obtain a divorce, there must be a legally acceptable reason. There are two legally acceptable reasons in Florida. One is that one party has been declared legally incompetent for a period in excess of three years. The other is the more common basis - that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." That means that there is nothing that the court can do (such as sending the couple to counseling) to induce the couple to reconcile. If there are children, and a person answers a petition for dissolution of marriage by denying that the marriage is irretrievably broken, then the court may order the parties to counseling and may delay the proceedings for up to three months to encourage and/or permit the parties an opportunity to reconcile.
Once a petition for dissolution of marriage is filed, it must be legally served upon the other party. That party must then file a written answer with the court. Forms for dissolution of marriage proceedings are available, and many courts have self-help units to assist people without lawyers in finding those forms.
There are specialized rules for procedure dealing with family courts, which are
available at public libraries and law schools. Those rules require each party to
provide the other with financial information within a certain number of days of
the beginning of a case. Except in cases involving domestic violence, most
courts will also require all couples to attend mediation sessions - which are
conferences with the assistance of a trained person who try to help couples
achieve a settlement between themselves. If children are involved, all parties
will be required to attend parenting classes, details of which are provided when
the divorce action is filed.
Divorce proceedings are public proceedings, and the files are available at the courthouse for public review. Under certain limited circumstances, portions of the file may be sealed by order of the court.
While a divorce is pending, a trial judge may enter orders dealing with support, possession or maintenance of any individual asset, where the child or children will live, the time the child or children will spend with each parent, and attorney's fees and costs.
The Clerk's Office can provide you with an information packet to begin your divorce.
Do we have to file for a divorce in the county where we reside?
No. If either you or your spouse has met the residence requirement of residing in the State of Florida for at least the past six months, you may file in any county within the state. If there is any doubt in your mind or your spouse's concerning a legal question about either your right to divorce or any property rights or tax consequences, it is strongly recommended that the services of an attorney be obtained. If you do not know an attorney, you should contact the Lawyer Referral Service listed in the Yellow Pages of the telephone book. If you are financially unable to afford the service of an attorney, you should contact the Legal Aid Office in your area or ask your local bar association for a referral to an appropriate person or agency.
Do you have an informational pamphlet on Divorce in Florida?
The Florida Bar has created a consumer information pamphlet on Divorce In Florida.
What is the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course?
- Each party in a Dissolution of Marriage with Children must attend a course found in the Department of Children and Families (DCF) Approved provider list here.
- Each party must pay a fee for the class.
- Each party must immediately file his/her Certificate of Attendance in the court file in order for you case to proceed.
- Parties with special circumstances must obtain approval from the Court prior to taking an alternative course. Special circumstances include parties who reside out of state, are incarcerated, or are determined by the Court to be unable to attend an approved classroom course.
- If you are unable to take the course, you must file a Motion to Waive the course. The Judge will review your request and decide whether or not to waive the course requirement.