In the state of Florida, a divorce is legally referred to as a dissolution of marriage. Proceedings to end a marriage may be taken jointly by a couple or by either party. Naturally, divorce proceedings can take a heavy emotional toll on both sides of the marriage, as well as on their children. On this page, we will take an in-depth look at divorce in Florida from a legal standpoint.
When you’re involved in a divorce, you need to know that your interests will be represented. Divorce isn’t just about dissolving a relationship; it’s also about splitting your assets, deciding how child custody and child support will be handled, and determining how to handle issues like alimony. The complicated process of divorce isn’t one that you should try to handle on your own! Instead, make sure you’re working with a qualified divorce attorney to help ensure that your needs are represented throughout the process. If you’re in the middle of a divorce, or planning to file, contact us at (727) 269-5300 as soon as possible.
Understanding the Legal Complexities of Divorce In Florida
Florida has a divorced population of around 13%, one of the highest in the United States. The reasons for a divorce are varied and can be complex. They include conflict, lack of commitment, communication problems, domestic violence, and extramarital affairs.
Florida is what is known as a no-fault state. This has been the case since 1971, with the passing of the Dissolution of Marriage law. Effectively, ‘fault’ in a marriage does not need to be proven in order to entitle a spouse to the dissolution of their marriage.
Given the legal complexity of divorce proceedings, it is essential to hire a qualified attorney. Their legal knowledge and support are key to ensuring that you receive a fair outcome from your divorce.
What Are the Two Ways of Filing for a Divorce?
In Florida, there are two ways of filing for a dissolution of marriage in court. The most common way is what is known as a regular dissolution of marriage. The other way is aptly known as a simplified dissolution of marriage.
Simplified Dissolution of Marriage
If certain criteria are met, there exists the option of proceeding with a simplified dissolution of marriage. This would occur if both parties are in relative agreement regarding the particularities of a divorce. Generally, this form of divorce is simpler and can be less expensive.
The criteria include that there are no dependent children under the age of 18, that no females are pregnant at the time, and at least one spouse has been living in Florida for at least six months. Both spouses must also agree that their marriage is ‘irretrievably broken.’
In addition, neither spouse can seek alimony, both agree on the division of debts, assets, and other factors, and both have filed financial affidavits with the court (or agreed that this is not necessary). While there can be no trial or appeal through this method, it is still highly recommended to hire a professional divorce attorney.
Regular Dissolution of Marriage
If you do not qualify for a simplified dissolution of marriage, your other option is a regular dissolution of marriage. Given that Florida is a no-fault divorce state, the only reason required to give a filing for divorce is on the grounds that your marriage is irretrievably broken. This effectively means that your relationship is over and cannot be repaired through any means.
How to File for Divorce In Florida
In this section, we will highlight the eligibility criteria for a divorce in Florida, as well as the grounds for divorce in the state and the process to divorce.
In order to file for divorce in Florida, at least one of the two parties must have lived in the state for a minimum of six months before filing a case. There is an exception with military members who live in Florida but are currently stationed elsewhere. It is necessary to file a case in the county where at least one of the two parties resides.
Grounds for Seeking a Divorce
As we have highlighted, there is no requirement to prove fault in order to file for divorce in Florida. All that is required is that you indicate that your marriage is irretrievably broken. Florida is one of 17 states in the US that is considered a no-fault state for divorce.
You may also file for divorce in Florida if your spouse has been mentally incapacitated for three years.
How Is a Divorce Filed?
The first step is that one of the two parties files a form known as a Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage. The person who completes this form is known as the petitioner; the other party is the respondent.
Once this form has been completed, the petitioner is required to give a copy to the respondent. If the other party agrees to a divorce, they can accept the completed form and file another form known as an Answer and Waiver of Service.
If the other party does not accept the service of the divorce papers, your attorney will use a process server (or sheriff’s office in some rural counties) to serve the papers to the other party.
A signed financial affidavit is required within 45 days of filing your petition. This affidavit will disclose a range of information on your income, assets, tax returns, debts, bank statements, and personal financial statements.
Most counties require the parties to complete mediation if they cannot settle the divorce matter on their own. Mediation involves bringing in a third party to help you and the other party reach an agreement without the need to further involve the court system. If this step is not successful, a trial commences, and a final decision of contested issues will be decided by a judge.
How Are Assets Split During a Divorce?
Dividing assets during a divorce case can be complex. In this section, we will look at how property, debt, gifts, and other assets are split during a divorce.
Property Division in Florida
Florida is known as an ‘equitable distribution’ state for divorce. This means that assets will be divided in an equitable manner (though not necessarily with a 50/50 split). This is the case for property, with the split based on what is considered appropriate given the specific circumstances.
Assets that were acquired before a marriage are predominantly deemed to be non-marital property. Such assets do not need to be considered for equitable distribution during divorce proceedings.
Some of the factors that determine equitable distribution in a divorce include each party’s economic circumstances, contributions to the marriage, duration of the marriage, and if one party contributed to the career or education advancement of the other.
Debt and Divorce in The State of Florida
Debts follow the same principle of equitable distribution in Florida. This means that debts are distributed in a fair manner based on several factors. In the majority of cases, the debt is split equally as marital debt.
However, if a particular party accumulated the majority of the debt or spent money recklessly, they may be deemed responsible for a higher share.
As with property, debt accumulated prior to a marriage is deemed to be the responsibility of the party who incurred it. This may change if this debt became commingled during the marriage. This may be the case with credit card debt, for example.
Gifts Given During Marriage
Gifts given to one another during the marriage are deemed to be marital property. This is the case even if one party had been designated as the sole owner of the gift (a car, for example). Gifts given before marriage or after the separation date are considered to be non-marital property.
Pensions and Retirement Plans
Assets such as pensions, retirement plans, and 401Ks are considered to be marital property in Florida. As with the above assets, only the amount of the retirement asset that was earned during the course of the marriage is subject to equitable distribution. Splitting pensions and retirement funds generally require a qualified domestic relations order to be set up.
The division of inherited property during a divorce case depends on whether or not it was left to both parties. If it was, then it falls under the laws of equitable distribution. If it was left to only one party and it has been kept separate, then it will be deemed to be a non-marital asset.
A separate inheritance, however, may become commingled with marital assets. For example, it may be considered to be a community property that you both have lived in, meaning that it could be considered a marital asset.
How Are Support Issues Dealt With In Florida Divorce?
Other key issues to be settled during a divorce proceeding revolve around child support, alimony, and child custody/visitation. In this section, we will consider each of these issues with regard to Florida divorce law.
In Florida, child support payments are generally determined using a Child Support Worksheet. Payments are determined by a range of factors, including predominantly each parent’s income and the amount of timesharing each party has been awarded or has agreed upon.
A judge, however, may order specific child support payments based on the circumstance of a case. Factors that may adjust the amount of child support payable include extraordinary healthcare expenses, seasonal variations in a parent’s income or expenses, and terms of a shared parental arrangement.
There are legal implications if a parent falls behind on their child support payments.
Alimony is a financial support order to be paid to a spouse or former spouse during separation or following divorce. In Florida, a court may grant either a permanent or rehabilitative alimony to either party. Even though Florida is a no-fault state, in cases where adultery can be proven, it may be factored into a final decision on the amount of alimony due if there was a dissipation of marital assets specifically related to the adultery.
There is a range of factors that determine the amount of alimony due. These include the length of the marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, each party’s earning capacity, each party’s age and health, and if one party required education or training to secure appropriate employment.
Timesharing and Visitation
Timesharing is a legal term used in the state of Florida which is synonymous with what many call “child custody.” In cases where an appropriate parenting plan cannot be reached between the two spouses, such decisions may be made by the court. Florida courts will determine timesharing in accordance with the best interest factors outlined in Florida Statute 61.13. Generally, courts will seek to ensure that both parents continue to play an active role in raising their children following a divorce.
How Can I Appeal a Decision In a Divorce Case?
In regular dissolution of marriage cases, you are entitled to appeal to the decision of the court if you feel the judge made an incorrect legal determination or ruling. There are a number of time-sensitive procedural steps that must be followed in this instance. There are 30 days from the date of the order to file an appeal.
What About Estate Planning Following a Divorce?
Estate planning is an important consideration during a divorce case. If your will states that you wish to leave property or assets to your spouse, such wishes will be revoked. Therefore, it is important to revise your will following the finalization of your divorce in order to re-designate your heirs.
Another important factor to consider with your ex-spouse is who will take care of your children should something happen to the both of you. Decisions made during marriage will no longer be applicable, meaning such decisions will need to be remade.
What Does a Divorce Entail?
There are several key aspects to most divorce proceedings that have to be considered. This can include:
- Child custody arrangements, including issues like holidays, school breaks, and special events
- Alimony or spousal support
- Separating marital assets
- Dividing marital debt
- Determining how to handle any future joint earnings (or dissolving any arrangements that could lead to joint earnings)
From the moment the petition is filed until the moment the divorce is finalized, it’s vital to rely on an attorney to represent your interests.
Who Is at Fault During Your Divorce?
Typically, a couple’s assets are divided equally during a divorce. While one partner may end up keeping a house, for example, they may need to buy out the other party’s half of it. Florida is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that misconduct or discretion by a spouse does not need to be proven to petition for divorce. In some instances, however, certain forms of misconduct may affect the outcome; for example, abuse towards a spouse or child may affect a party’s privileges in a child custody arrangement. Issues like these can quickly complicate a divorce; it is wise to speak with an attorney as soon as possible.
What Can We Recover During Your Divorce?
If you’re in the process of a divorce, you probably already know that there are several assets that need to be taken into consideration. Depending on your circumstances and the assets that are involved in the divorce, you may be able to recover:
- Possession of your home
- Possession of your vehicle
- Specific items in the home that are of value to you
- Primary custody of your child or children, or specific visitation hours based on your needs
- Child support, alimony, debt payments, or other legally-mandated obligations
While some divorces may proceed amicably, many unrepresented clients may nonetheless find themselves at the risk of being taken advantage of. Working with a qualified attorney will make your rights the top priority throughout your divorce.
How Can Your Spouse Get out of Paying a Fair Share?
It’s very common in divorces for one spouse—often the high-earner—to try to shield assets from their partner. This is particularly common among couples where one member serves as a stay-at-home parent or spouse, caring for the home and family instead of going to work. Parties may under-represent income or assets to avoid equitable distribution of marital property. You may find that your spouse tries to hide money or shifts assets in preparation of a divorce. Work with an attorney who can identify when your spouse is trying to prevent you from
accessing the assets that are due during the divorce.
What Will a Divorce Attorney Cost Me?
If you’re intimidated by the potential cost of a dissolution, contact us for a free consultation. We’ll sit down with you and discuss your assets, concerns, and what’s necessary to file for divorce. We are happy to accommodate clients in billing arrangements, and in many cases, legal fees may be incorporated into the terms of a settlement. Your attorney can help you design a plan for moving forward, and help ensure the divorce process is as quick, efficient, and fair as possible. Divorce is hard enough without having to worry about whether or not your rights are being taken into consideration.
Ensure You Are Represented By a Professional Divorce Attorney
As you can see from the above information, divorce proceedings can be complex. Therefore, it is essential that you employ the services of a qualified, experienced, and professional divorce attorney. Whether you are filing a simplified or regular dissolution of marriage, a divorce attorney will help to ensure that you receive a fair split of assets and support following a divorce.
Khonsari Law Group has experience successfully navigating a wide range of divorce cases. Not only do we take care of the mountainous paperwork a divorce proceeding requires, we can also help counter a number of the challenges associated with the process. We’ve helped spouses successfully negotiate in spite of significant disputes, obtained alimony for dependent spouses in need of support, and prevented spouses from taking unfair advantage of our clients throughout the divorce process. Dissolving a marriage isn’t easy, but the legal challenges shouldn’t be your biggest headache—we’re here to ensure that our clients are protected throughout, and receive the best outcome possible.
Khonsari Law Group
150 2nd Ave N #970, St. Petersburg, FL 33701