If you have decided to file for divorce , this provides an overview of what you will need to do. Each circuit in Florida (comprised of one or more counties) may have requirements other than what is listed below, so you should always check with the website for your circuit (links below) where you intend to file to find out what additional steps you may have to take. If you have specific questions about your case, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for advice.
First, you want to make sure you are filing the right forms for your divorce, or “dissolution of marriage,” as it is called in Florida, in the correct circuit. You should file for divorce in the county where you live, and you must have been a resident of that county for at least six months prior to filing for divorce.
The first form to complete when filing for divorce is the “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.” The spouse filing for divorce is the “petitioner,” and the other spouse is the “respondent.”
Florida does not have fault-based divorce. In order to receive a divorce in Florida, you only need to show that the marriage is irretrievably broken or that one of the spouses has been mentally incapacitated for three years. The court can still consider fault, such as infidelity or cruel treatment, when deciding alimony, property division, or parental responsibility (also known as child custody).
All issues you want the court to address should be listed in your petition, such as dividing assets and debts, child custody, child support and alimony. If you and your spouse have agreed on property division, neither spouse is asking for alimony, and you have no children under 18, you may be able to file a “simplified dissolution of marriage.”
You should be certain that everything is agreed upon, however, before filing for a simplified dissolution of marriage, because you give up many rights you would otherwise have, like cross-examining your spouse, or asking for financial documents. A simplified dissolution of marriage also requires you to prepare and sign a settlement agreement that covers property and debt division. See your circuit court’s website for more information on a simplified dissolution of marriage.
Filing for divorce means you have given your petition for dissolution of marriage to the clerk’s office of the circuit court for the county where you are filing. You will need to have your petition notarized before filing with the court; most courthouses will have a notary present who can do this for a fee. You’ll give a copy of your signed and notarized petition to the clerk, along with the filing fee for a dissolution of marriage, and they should give you a copy with a date stamp and notation showing that it has been filed with the court. Be sure to make a copy of the petition for yourself, as well as an additional copy to serve on your spouse.
You have to give your spouse a copy of your filed petition for dissolution of marriage; this is called “serving” your petition. There are a number of ways to serve your spouse with your petition. If your spouse agrees, your spouse or your spouse’s attorney can simply accept service. Your spouse should complete a form you can find at your county clerk’s office called an “Answer and Waiver of Service.” This form must be signed and notarized. Depending on where you live, you may be able to have the sheriff’s office of your county deliver the petition to your spouse. Check with your circuit court clerk’s office to see if your sheriff’s office will serve your spouse with your petition on your behalf.
Whether your sheriff’s office will deliver your petition or not, you have the option of having a private process server serve your petition on your spouse. Your circuit court clerk’s office will have a list of approved process servers for you to select from. If your spouse lives in a different county from you, you will need to have the sheriff’s office or a private process server for the county where you spouse lives serve the petition. Contact the circuit court clerk for your spouse’s county to be connected with someone who can serve your spouse in that county.
If you can’t find your spouse, you can still serve him or her by “constructive service,” which means having a notice that he or she is being served published in a local newspaper for 30 days. You will have to pay a fee to the newspaper for this service. Your county clerk can assist you with publishing your notice.
Florida requires you to turn over a completed and signed financial affidavit to your spouse within 45 days of the date your petition for dissolution of marriage is served. You can get a blank financial affidavit from your circuit court clerk’s office. The types of information and documents you can expect to turn over include: