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Family Law

Florida Divorce: The Basics

An opened and empty bird cage with several feathers floating in the wind, representing freedom after divorce

In Florida, divorce changes a person’s legal status from married to unmarried and resolves issues like alimony, property division, and child custody. Our team at the Devolder Law Firm works to provide efficient, compassionate divorce representation for clients in New Tampa, Wesley Chapel, and the Tampa Bay area. 

Do I Need an Attorney to Get a Divorce?

Not every divorce case requires an attorney. You may be eligible for a simplified divorce proceeding that you can complete without an attorney if all the following conditions are true in your case:

  • Both parties agree the marriage is irretrievably broken
  • You have no children
  • You have no property together
  • You have been married for less than 7 years
  • At least one of you has lived in Florida for the last six months

This doesn’t necessarily mean that a simplified divorce is easy. You’ll be responsible for completing all the forms accurately, and the process takes time to learn and understand. You and your spouse will also have to appear before the judge in the final hearing where the divorce is granted. If you prefer, you can still get an attorney’s help with this type of “DIY divorce,” usually for a very minimal fee.

When Is a DIY Divorce a Bad Idea?

If either spouse purchased any property or acquired any debts during the marriage — no matter whose name is on the title — or if your marriage has lasted longer than seven years, it’s important to contact an attorney so you can get a complete understanding of your legal rights before you agree to a simplified divorce proceeding. Otherwise, you could lose your rights to money or property forever, putting your future financial security in jeopardy.

If you have children, you must file for divorce using the regular (non-simplified) divorce procedure. We recommend that you not proceed without consulting an experienced family law attorney who can help protect your financial assets and your rights as a parent.

What Are the Grounds for a Divorce in Florida?

Florida is a no-fault divorce state. There are only two grounds for divorce in Florida: irreconcilable differences and mental incompetence lasting for a period of three years or more. Most couples who successfully divorce in Florida do so based on the grounds of irreconcilable difference.

How Long Will It Take to Get Divorced in Florida?

The time it takes to get a divorce in Florida depends mostly on whether the parties can agree on parenting, property distribution, and alimony claims. You can often obtain a simplified or uncontested divorce as quickly as 30 days from the date of filing if both sides submit all the paperwork properly, but the case will typically take 60–90 days to finalize.

On the other hand, contested divorces that proceed all the way to trial usually take about 12 months to complete, but they may last for three years or more in cases that involve significant assets or extensive fighting between the parties.

Can One Spouse Prevent the Other from Getting a Divorce in Florida?

The spouse who files the petition for divorce will allege that the marriage is irretrievably broken, but the spouse who responds can deny this claim. In response, the court may order counseling or allow some time (up to three months) for a reconciliation.

The Devolder Law Firm works with counselors and related businesses to allow for the possibility of reconciliation, and to minimize any period of tumultuous indecision. We never feel disappointed when a client decides not to move forward with a divorce case — we strive to give our clients the information they need to make the best decision for themselves and their family and then we support them throughout the entire process, no matter what they ultimately decide. If divorce turns out to be the answer, we protect our client and their interests with great care.

What Are the Requirements to Get a Divorce Based on the Unusual Grounds of Mental Incompetence?

Obtaining a divorce based on mental incompetence requires that the spouse be found incompetent by the courts in a separate proceeding, followed by a period of three years before the divorce can be granted. The incapacitated person’s guardian or nearest blood relatives have the right to appear and give testimony in the divorce proceedings, and the court may require the petitioner to pay alimony.

The mental incompetence basis for divorce is rarely used, and it applies only under the unique circumstances where a spouse “lacks capacity to make informed decisions about care and treatment services or to meet the essential requirements for her or his physical or mental health or safety,” or where a spouse has legal disabilities or is incapable of exercising specific rights (Florida Statutes 744.331).

What Do I Have to Do to Get Divorced? How Do I Get Started?

The standard process to get divorced begins when one spouse files a petition for dissolution of marriage. In this document, the petitioner alleges that the marriage is irretrievably broken and sets out what they want from the court. The other spouse — who is called the respondent — must file an answer within 20 days of being served. This document needs to address all the allegations from the initial petition and, if necessary, raise any additional issues the respondent wants the court to address in a counter-petition.

If either party seeks financial relief, the court requires that each party provide a complete financial affidavit either within 45 days of the service of the petition or several days before any temporary hearing, whichever comes first. If a party fails to provide this affidavit, the court may dismiss the case or refuse to consider that party’s requests.

Child support in Florida is determined by a statutory formula. At or before any hearing on child support, the parties must file a child-support guidelines worksheet with the court.

Neither the parties involved nor the court can waive any of these divorce requirements.

Residency Requirements and Jurisdiction

To obtain a dissolution of marriage and change your legal status from married to unmarried, at least one of the parties to the marriage (meaning you or your spouse) must reside in Florida for the six months leading up to the filing of the petition.

Note that residence in Florida refers to your primary place of residence (or as the court calls it, your domicile). To reside here, you must be physically present in the state, and you must have the intent to make a home here or to live here permanently or indefinitely. If you leave the state, Florida remains your residence as long as you intended to return here and, despite a temporary absence, you had no present purpose to leave the state permanently. (This means that even if you travel up North every year for three months, Florida remains your state of residence — assuming you always return to your home here afterward.)

If you’ve maintained residency in Florida for at least six months on the day you file your divorce complaint, it doesn’t matter if you remain in this state until the divorce hearing; the Florida court will still have jurisdiction over the divorce. You may want to keep this fact in mind if you’re planning to move soon to another state because the residency requirement for divorce there may be longer than six months.

Where Should I Divorce?

You should file your petition with the circuit court in the last county where you and your spouse lived together or in a county where either spouse now resides.

Undocumented or non-citizen immigrants, out-of-state students, and military servicemembers often have more complicated questions about the courts in which they may appropriately file for divorce as well as which of those courts may be the best choice to resolve their case. If any of these circumstances apply in your case, please call our office so we can discuss your individual situation in more detail.

Contact the Devolder Law Firm for Help with Divorce in New Tampa, Wesley Chapel, and the Tampa Area

Whether you are considering filing a petition or you have been served with divorce papers, the Devolder Law Firm can help you understand your legal rights and assist you in choosing the best timeframe and method for moving forward. As a law firm that strives to meet all the legal needs that suburban families face, we’re also able to handle many of the related matters that divorce tends to bring up, including making changes to your estate plan and selling your marital home.

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