Florida Divorce Basics: Dissolution of Marriage and the Law

In Florida, Dissolution of Marriage is the Term for Divorce.  Photo Courtesy of Skirsner http://www.flickr.com/photos/skirsner/3082744862/ under Creative Commons Attribution License
In Florida, Dissolution of Marriage is the Term for Divorce. Photo Courtesy of Skirsner http://www.flickr.com/photos/skirsner/3082744862/ under Creative Commons Attribution License

Since I did contract writing work for a law firm about Florida divorce law in 2009, I thought I'd share some of what I learned about the dissolution of marriage specifically in Florida. If you're thinking of filing for divorce in Florida, you may want to know ahead of time some of the basics, so you know what to ask the lawyer. And heavens, don't take this as legal advice - I'm not a lawyer, I'm a writer who happened to research this subject in the course of my work. These are tips to help you figure out what's what. Talk to a divorce attorney in your state for the latest facts. He or she will know the current statutes and can give you advice on your particular case.

The Basics

The Marriage Dissolution Act governs dissolutions of marriage, also known as dissolutions or divorces, in the state of Florida. To start divorce proceedings, you file a petition for dissolution of marriage in the circuit court. You will need to furnish your social security number and the social security numbers of your children, if any.

Over the course of the proceedings, you may also need to file affidavits, financial documents, waivers, and disposition forms. Your divorce is granted once the final hearing has happened. Your marriage is officially terminated by the document known as the final judgment of dissolution of marriage.

The Grounds for Divorce in Florida:

In order to get a divorce granted in Florida, you must have grounds for divorce. There are two grounds for divorce and they both must be had:

  • Your marriage must be broken irretrievably. If this is not the case, then either you do not have grounds for divorce, or the divorce must be filed on the grounds of the mental incapacity of you or your spouse for a period of 3 years. If you testify that your marriage is irretrievably broken, since Florida is known as a "no-fault" state, you do not need to prove adultery or be separated from your spouse. If you and your spouse are not in agreement about whether or not your marriage is irretrievably broken, the decision of the court may be to demand you get counseling or some form of assistance with saving your marriage before the dissolution can go through.
  • If you're the spouse filing for divorce, you must have lived as a resident in Florida for at minimum 6 months before filing. To verify your residency, you'll present either your valid voter's registration card, valid Florida identification card, or valid Florida driver's license. In lieu of these, the court may allow a testimony or affidavit of someone else (not your spouse).

Do You Need a Lawyer to File for Divorce in Florida?

Maybe. Maybe not. If you and your spouse both agree--and continue to agree throughout the process of the marriage dissolution--on how your property is to be distributed and on complicating factors such as "who gets the children," then you may be fine without a lawyer. Quite often, though, what starts as an amicable divorce becomes bitter as spouses realize there is less agreement on some of these issues than they thought. When kids are involved, when alimony is desired, or when the marital assets are a "complicated mess," then most people want to be represented by divorce lawyers.

Child Support in Florida

If both parents are not awarded custody, then generally the parent without custody is ordered by the court to pay child support. The court fixes the amount based on several factors, including but not limited to:

  • the needs of the children
  • how much each parent earns
  • how much income the child has

Neither parent has any choice in the matter of child support. You cannot waive your spouse's obligation to pay child support, and your spouse cannot waive yours. That said, the court does weigh several factors in deciding the amounts that need to be paid.

Who Gets Custody of the Kids in a Florida Divorce?

Either you or your spouse, or both of you, may be granted custody of any children you have who are under 18 years of age. The court makes the decision. The court's decision ultimately rests on one factor: what the court believes is in the best interests of your children.

Is the mother always awarded custody? No. Sometimes the father is awarded custody. Sometimes both parents share custody in a joint-custody arrangement.

What does the court consider? Just a few considerations include:

  • the parents' ability to support the kids
  • the emotional ties between the children and their parents
  • special needs the children may have
  • the moral integrity of the parents

The matter of custody is often a complicated one, reflecting the fact that most peoples' situations don't fall into neat, easy categories. Therefore it's important that you talk to a lawyer familiar with Florida divorce law about the exact particulars of your situation.

Florida Divorce Law: Alimony

When you or your spouse pays the other money after you're granted a divorce, this is called alimony, and it's awarded by the court. It's up to the court if any alimony is awarded or not, who must pay it, who will get it, and whether the payments are temporary or ongoing.

Husbands do not automatically have to pay alimony to wives. In the state of Florida, gender isn't taken into account. The factors that come into play on the matter of alimony in Florida include:

  • the length of time the marriage lasted
  • what resources are available to you and your spouse

Who Gets What in a Florida Divorce?

The court uses the principle of equitable distribution to decide how to distribute the marital assets (things of value) and liabilities (debts owed) in a dissolution of marriage.

The court must determine how to equitably distribute marital assets. This frequently gets complicated and is the source of much legal dispute.

In case you're wondering...retirement accounts are marital assets. An example of something that's not a marital asset is something you owned in full before you got married, or money you inherited from one of your relatives and kept in a separate savings account.

However, ownership can be a tricky business. Legal counsel is advised if there might be a dispute about property or other assets important to you.

By the way, equitable distribution does not mean that assets get distributed equally between you and your spouse. That's called the principle of "community property" and applies in certain other states--but not Florida. For "equal," read "fair." The court decides the fair way to distribute the marital assets based on factors such as:

  • how long you've been married
  • how responsible you've been (and your spouse has been) in handling your assets
  • who was granted custody of the kids
  • what you both have contributed, both monetarily and in other ways, to the assets.

Is a Quick and Easy Divorce Possible?

In some cases it is possible to qualify for a fast divorce in Florida. It depends on your situation. A fast divorce can be granted within a month of your filing the petition for dissolution of marriage.

Some criteria that are considered are:

  • You neither have, nor are expecting to have, dependent children.
  • Whether you and your spouse are both in agreement about the marriage being irretrievably broken.
  • Whether you and your spouse sign a joint petition for dissolution of marriage.
  • Whether you both appear at the court hearing.
  • Whether you both agree on how your assets and debts are distributed.
  • The case doesn't go to trial.
  • Nobody appeals the case.
  • No alimony is awarded to either spouse.

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