A Guide to Divorce in Florida
This is a complete guide to divorce in Florida.
In this guide, we’ll address your burning questions – including some you didn’t even think to ask.
So if you want to make sure you have a lay of the land (and avoid the pitfalls), we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get started.
- The differences between divorce, annulment and separation
- What are the grounds for divorce in Florida?
- Deciding what kind of divorce you will go through
- The process of filing for divorce
- How to complete proof of service
- Filing for a divorce online
- Filing for divorce in Florida without using a lawyer
- How much does divorce cost in Florida?
- How long does it take to get a divorce?
- Should I retain the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
- Bifurcation of Marital Status in Florida
- Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Florida?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is a divorce certificate?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources for a Better Divorce
The differences between divorce, annulment and legal separation (limited divorce)
Married couples can end their marriages in Florida either by a divorce or annulment. Florida does not allow legal separation but does allow for a limited divorce. Each of these has their own special requirements and rules, and a basic understanding of these options is a good place for you to start.
When a marriage is no longer working and one spouse moves out of the home, couples may consider themselves separated. While this is physically the case, they are not legally separated, and there is a big difference between the two.
Legal separation means that couples are able to reach agreement on a division of assets, child custody and support, alimony and other important issues, without having to go through a divorce.
Unfortunately, Florida does not recognize legal separation. However, Florida does provide for a limited divorce which is similar to legal separation in other states. A limited divorce can be requested on grounds of desertion, cruelty or voluntary separation. Courts can assign primary custody of children and assign visitation rights.
It should be noted that legal separation (or a limited divorce) does not always lead to a full divorce. In fact, these actions may be a much-needed time-out that allows two people to try and resolve their issues in a less intense environment. Stepping away can oftentimes bring added perspective about what a couple will lose in a marriage and possibly give them time to heal from the issues that caused their marriage to come under stress.
There are financial benefits as well, such as being able to keep health insurance or continuing to file as a married couple on tax returns.
When a couple is legally separated, each person is responsible for their own financial decisions and is not responsible for those the other person makes. If a person is not a U.S. citizen and they get a divorce, they run the risk of deportation. But with a legal separation, a noncitizen can still stay in the country even if they don’t live with their spouse.
If you can prove your marriage is fraudulent or invalid in Florida, you may be able to seek an annulment. When a couple is granted an annulment, their marriage is considered null and void. Basically, this means that both people can move forward with their lives as if their marriage never happened.
Annulments may be granted for several reasons in Florida. Those can include the following:
- If a spouse is legally married to another person already (bigamy).
- The couple is closely related by blood or by marriage (incest).
- If one or both parties being under 18 when the marriage took place and did not have consent from a parent or guardian.
- If one spouse is permanently mentally incapacitated so that they cannot consent to marriage.
- A temporary mental condition or either spouse was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- If a spouse uses fraud to trick the other spouse into marriage.
- If either spouse was under duress or extreme coercion.
- If either spouse entered into the marriage as a joke.
Some people choose this option for religious reasons. For example, the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize divorces and an annulment is the only officially sanctioned way to end a marriage. Catholics who get a divorce may be denied certain religious rights, and any future marriages will not be recognized because the church will still consider that person to be married.
Florida is a no-fault state, meaning that no proof is required to prove one spouse or the other was at fault. Divorce is permanent and straightforward and assuming all requirements are met, the couple will divide assets, resolve child custody and support issues, and other related concerns. Ultimately the courts must agree to issue a final decree that permanently and legally separates the couple.
What are the grounds for divorce in Florida?
Florida is a “no-fault” state, meaning that the person filing for divorce does not need to prove any specific reason for the divorce. They only need to cite that the marriage is “irretrievably
broken” with no hope of getting back together.
However, if a spouse has committed adultery, then the other spouse may use that as leverage in making child custody decisions because it could be argued that adultery could have an adverse impact on any children in the marriage. Adultery can also have an impact on the division of assets and debts as well, if it can be shown that one spouse spent marital assets on the non-marital partner.
What are your options for divorce?
Aside from the decision to get a divorce, the single most important decision you will make is the type of divorce.
You see, there are only two ways that you reach a final resolution:
- You and your spouse agree
- A judge decides
That’s it. Those are the only two ways to get a divorce in Florida.
The type of divorce you choose sets the basis for how you will get to a final resolution. The tone and outcome of your divorce will be greatly shaped by the process you choose.
Before we get into the details, there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind:
One type of divorce is not “better” than another. Divorce is not one size fits all.
Here are the types of divorce:
- Do-It-Yourself Divorce: What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straightforward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
- Online Divorce: A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
- Litigation: The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids. Sometimes it’s the only viable option, however. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
- Mediation: With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
- Collaborative Divorce: Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions. That’s what a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist. Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
Learn More: I’ve really just scratched the surface on the types of divorce. For a deep dive into the pros and cons of these options, be sure to check out our guide on the types of divorce.
The process of filing for divorce in Florida
Although there are many different kinds of divorce in Florida, the basic process of filing for divorce is the same no matter what type of divorce you choose.
Gather important information.
To give yourself the best chance at achieving the best possible outcome, you need to be organized and proactive when it comes to pulling together the information you will need.
By doing so, you can ensure your rights are protected while also saving time, money and anxiety for the next steps in your divorce.
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
This is only a partial list. You can check out the complete divorce document checklist here.
Complete your paperwork.
To officially start your divorce, you will need to file several forms in Florida. You or your attorney must file those forms in the county where you have lived for at least six months.
If you get help from a person in filling out the forms who is not an attorney, they are called a nonlawyer. If a nonlawyer helps you fill out forms, that person must give you a copy of a Disclosure from Nonlawyer, Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure Form 12.900(a), before he or she helps you.
A nonlawyer helping you fill out these forms must also put his or her name, address, and telephone number on the bottom of the last page of every form he or she helps you complete.
If you are the one who is filing, you are the petitioner. If you are the one receiving the papers, then you are the respondent.
The first form you must complete is a Petition for Simplified Dissolution of Marriage or a regular Petition for a Dissolution of Marriage.
The simplified form should be used when a husband and wife are filing for a divorce and meet all of the following criteria:
- You and your spouse agree that the marriage cannot be saved.
- You and your spouse have no minor or dependent child(ren) together, the wife does not
have any minor or dependent children born during the marriage, and the wife is not
- You and your spouse have worked out how the two of you will divide the things that you both own (your assets) and who will pay what part of the money you both owe (your liabilities), and you are both satisfied with this division.
- You are not seeking support (alimony) from your spouse, and vice versa. You are willing to give up your right to trial and appeal.
- You and your spouse are both willing to go into the clerk’s office to sign the petition (not necessarily together).
- You and your spouse are both willing to go to the final hearing (at the same time).
If you do not meet the criteria above, you must file a regular petition for dissolution of marriage.
Depending on your situation, there may be several other forms you will need to complete. These may include:
- Dissolution of a marriage when dependent children are involved
- Financial affidavits
- Child support guideline worksheets
- Child custody forms
- Answer to a petition for dissolution of marriage
- Petitions for alimony and support
- Parenting plan petition
- Affidavit of Military service
File your forms
After completing the appropriate forms, you will need to file them with the clerk of the circuit court in the county where you live and keep a copy for your records.
You must prove to the court that the husband and/or wife has (have) lived in Florida for more than 6 months before filing your petition. Residence can be proved by:
- a valid Florida driver’s license, Florida identification card, or voter registration card issued to one of you at least 6 months prior to filing paperwork
- the testimony of another person who knows that either you or your spouse has resided in Florida for more than 6 months. This person must be available to testify in court, if needed.
- Filing an affidavit. To prove residence by affidavit, use an Affidavit of Corroborating Witness, Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.902(i). This form must be signed by a person who knows that either you or your spouse has lived in Florida for more than 6 months before the date that you filed the petition for dissolution of marriage.
It may be signed in the presence of the clerk of the court or in the presence of a notary public, who must affix his or her seal at the proper place on the affidavit.
You must pay the appropriate filing fees to the clerk of the circuit court. If you and your spouse cannot afford to pay the filing fees, you may request a waiver when you file.
Depending on your jurisdiction, you may either obtain a date and time for a court appearance from the clerk of court, or a date and time will be provided to you by the court.
How to complete proof of service
After you file your forms with the court, you must also provide your spouse with those forms so that they can have a chance to respond. When you file your papers, the court clerk will issue a summons that you will take to the local sheriff’s office or a process server.
You will need to provide information about where to find your spouse at that time, including a home or work address so that your spouse can be personally served.
Your spouse must be personally served, or if they are not home or at work, then the summons and petition can be left at the spouse’s address with any member of the household who is at least 15 years old.
If your spouse can’t be located, you have the option of initiating divorce proceedings through “constructive service of process.” You will need to complete an Affidavit of Diligent Search and Inquiry detailing your efforts, swear it as the truth and have it notarized. If the judge accepts the affidavit, then you can file an Affidavit for Service by Publication.
You will then be required to advertise in a local newspaper for four weeks in the county where you filed for divorce. At the end of the four weeks, if there is no response, then the judge will grant your divorce.
You will not be able to collect alimony or child support by this method because a spouse must be personally served for the court to have jurisdiction over your spouse. If you are able to find your spouse at a later date, you can reopen your divorce and resolve these types of matters.
Filing for a divorce online
Florida State Courts maintain a Self-Help Center which is an online guide that helps direct people through the court system. The self-help website will allow people to access resources they need to represent themselves, access the courts and also provide a directory of local self-help centers, along with links to free and low-cost legal aid and other related resources.
Although you will still need to print out all your forms and file them at an appropriate court location, using the online self-help center will expedite your process. Staff will be able to help you in filling out forms, but they will not be able to act as your lawyer or give you any legal advice.
Filing for divorce in Florida without using a lawyer
You always have the option for filing for divorce on your own without using a lawyer.
This works best when you have an uncontested divorce and agree on all the issues with your spouse. You can file for a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage as long as you meet all qualifying criteria. It should only take about 30 days from filing to finalization.
On the other hand, if you have several contentious issues that you cannot work out with your spouse, you should probably seek legal advice from a good family law lawyer to protect your rights.
How much does divorce cost?
If you choose to file for a Simplified Divorce (an uncontested divorce) and you meet all the eligibility requirements, the filing fees set by Florida Statute are $408 plus a $10 summons fee.
If you can’t afford to pay fees associated with filing for a divorce in Florida, you can fill out an Application for Determination of Civil Indigent Status, and file it with your petition for dissolution of marriage. You may obtain this form from the clerk and he or she will determine whether you are eligible to have filing fees waived.
If you need to retain an experienced divorce attorney, expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $500 per hour. You will also need to pay some sort of a retainer up front to start the process. If you decide to use a mediator or an arbitrator, expect your costs to be somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000, and possibly more.
When you are seeking outside help, one of the important issues you need to discuss during the vetting process is what all anticipated costs will be. You should be given an itemized list that will help you start to figure out costs of the actual divorce process.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Florida?
If you qualify for a Simplified Divorce, there is a mandatory 20-day waiting period before a hearing can be held. After that waiting period is over, the hearing will be scheduled at the earliest possible date depending on the court’s schedule. After the judge signs the Final Judgment, you will need to take that document to the Clerk’s Family Law Division where it will be filed, and your case will then be considered final.
In contested divorces, especially those where there are many debts or assets to unwind, or if there are major child custody challenges to negotiate, a divorce may take as long as one to two years to complete.
When you have a large amount of assets, hiring a certified asset dissolution professional to assist you may be the best course of action to determine fair market value and which spouse should get a particular asset.
Florida law requires that one or both spouses must have lived in Florida for at least six months before filing for a divorce. You must be able to legally prove residency before a court will hear your divorce case.
Residency can be established by proving that you were either physically present in the state for six months or that you had the intention during that time to make Florida your primary residence. Only visiting Florida from time to time or maintaining a vacation property are not sufficient grounds to prove residency.
You can prove residency by providing a signed lease, show proof of a permanent job in Florida, using a Florida address for official matters, getting a Florida driver’s license and registration, or filing your state taxes in Florida.
Should I consider using a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
If you are going through a financially complicated divorce, you may need someone who can assist you with an accurate and objective analysis of the financial and tax implications of your decisions.
This will help you make the right decisions now when it comes to reaching a settlement with your spouse. It’s important to get this right from the start – you won’t get a second chance.
While some people with simple situations may only need a family law attorney to help them with this process, many others will benefit from working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
Divorce is complicated enough without trying to reach critical decisions when you may not understand all the consequences of your actions. To help you better understand the benefits of working with a divorce financial specialist, take a look at our article What is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst? (and why you need one).
Bifurcation of marital status can be granted in some circumstances in Florida
Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally declared as a single person while the other issues in their divorce are still being worked out. It does not affect things such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or become major sticking points that are keeping the divorce from being finalized.
States throughout the country treat bifurcation differently. Some states permit it while other states do not. Florida will grant bifurcation in some instances and will only postpone decisions on property issues.
Laws regarding bifurcation tend to be complicated, so it is best to check with an attorney who will be able to best advise you on the legal ramifications and requirements of bifurcation in Florida.
If you are granted a bifurcation, and you took the last name of your spouse, you can legally restore your name to your maiden name. Another thing to be aware of is that if a spouse maintains health insurance for the other, then he or she must continue to provide coverage, when possible.
Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Florida?
If your divorce has already been finalized, you cannot stop or cancel a divorce in Florida. Decisions made as part of the divorce decree are final and legally binding.
However, if you decide only part way through a divorce that you want to stop or cancel a divorce, you can file a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal if you are the one who petitioned for the divorce. If your spouse filed a counter-petition, they may also need to file a voluntary dismissal form as well.
If your divorce becomes final in Florida and you do reconcile with your ex-spouse, you do have the option of getting married again. Florida has no waiting period for remarriage after a divorce. If you are considering this option, you may need to consult an attorney to see how this can impact your existing divorce decree.
What is a divorce decree?
A divorce decree is the court’s final order that terminates a marriage. In Florida, this is known as a Final Judgment.
A Final Judgment provides a summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. it also covers child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.
The Final Judgment is a legally binding document, and if either party does not meet the requirements and obligations set forth in the document, the other party can take legal action to correct any deficiencies.
What is proof of divorce?
After a final divorce decree is granted, the Florida will issue a Certificate of Divorce, sometimes referred to as proof of divorce. This is not a copy of the Final Judgment. It only shows minimal information, such as the names of both spouses and the date and place a divorce was granted.
A Certificate of Divorce can provide proof of divorce for many legal purposes. It can be used when a person wants to change the name on any state issued documents, or as proof that the person legally has the right to get married again.
Copies can be ordered from the Florida Department of Health, Office of Vital Statistics and are only available for either ex-spouse or an immediate family member.
Changing Your Name
As you prepare your divorce forms, you will be able to choose to either restore your former name or request a court order for changing names.
The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You can choose to receive a separate court order to make your name change official, or you can have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Both of these documents are acceptable for all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.
Having a court order does not mean that your name change has taken effect. You need to contact all of your organizations to request that your records are updated.
It’s a long process to contact each company and figure out what to send where. To lighten the load, we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to prevent the 10+ hours of paperwork and research that you would have to do by yourself.
Need support? Make sure you read: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Changing my Last Name
Recommended Divorce Resources
Many divorce resources make big claims promises. Most of them fall short. Only a select few hold up.
We’re excited to share these resources with you because we know they will help you have a better divorce process.
We have recommendations for all kinds of resources, and are sure that these are the best you’ll find:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Co-parenting apps
- Online dating
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- And a whole lot more