Filing For Divorce In Florida
Filing for divorce is an unpleasant experience for everyone involved. If there are children, there may be child custody issues to address. There are many ways to handle this situation, and there is no 'one-size-fits-all' option. Whether you choose to hire an attorney, or settle out of court, there is a legal road map that divorces must follow. Every divorce is a unique situation, some may be settled quickly, and some may even go to trial. If everything is agreed upon and all of the required documents are filed correctly, then it may be as easy as a 15-minute court date. Unfortunately, this is not very common, and most divorces do not settle that easily.
Prior To Filing For Divorce
There may be many questions and concerns with this life changing event that you are contemplating. In the meantime prior to filing you should take certain steps to protect yourself.
- Make copies of all important documents.
- Place your passport and social security card in a safety security box
- Change your login information on important digital accounts (banks, social media, etc)
- Record a video of the contents of your home, and be sure to have more than one copy
Hiring an Attorney
Whether you decide to go at it 'pro se' or hire an attorney, it is always best to get the most information that you can with such a big change in your life. Even if you cannot afford an attorney, most law firms will provide you with a free initial consultation. During this consultation, the attorney will provide you with details about the divorce process. They will also tell you what steps you must take in order to file for divorce. If you do decide to hire an attorney, it is advised that you meet with at least three attorneys before choosing one.
Filing for Divorce
In Florida, you can find all of the required legal documents online (or in person) at your county clerk-of-court office. The first question you must ask yourself is 'Where am I supposed to file?'. The venue that you file in will determine which courthouse will hear your case. You are required to file in the state (and county) where both parties have lived for the past six months.
Next, complete your petition, notice of social security number, and summons (this is where the other party will be served). If there are children involved, you must include a Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act Form (UCCJEA). This form determines where your children have lived for the past five years. Once you have filed the appropriate paperwork, the other party (your spouse) will have twenty days to respond to your petition.
Be aware that this petition must be filed at the courthouse that serves your county. Many people are nervous about the cost of filing for divorce. In Florida, it usually costs more than $400 to file, unless you are found indigent. In this situation, you won't be required to pay the filing fee.
Once you receive an answer from the other party, you should start working on your discovery and financial. Many people don't realize that they will be required to hand over any legal documents if their spouse decides to lawyer-up.
Depending on your income, you will be required to file either a long or short-form financial form. If you aren't sure which form to complete, you should speak with an attorney. Complete the appropriate financial form, have your attorney or CPA check it, and then file it.
Next, gather these important financial documents:
- Tax returns for the previous two years.
- Bank statements for the past three months (or more)
- Payment stubs for the past three months (or more)
It is critical that the provided documentation is valid, and that it is exchanged prior to mediation. If all parties agree to the terms of the divorce, either the mediator or one of the parties will draft a standing order. Once this is signed by a judge, the divorce will be final.
If your case goes to trial, you can expect many court hearings. There will be usually be two or more court hearings, as well as a final hearing that can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 days. Filing for divorce can be complicated, and you will need to speak with an attorney if your case goes to trial.