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How Long Does Divorce Take in Florida?

8 min read
Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

by Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

Navigating a divorce is undeniably an emotional journey, filled with anticipation and numerous unanswered questions about the future. Florida allows couples to quickly enjoy their separate futures if they agree on the terms of a divorce.

One of the first things to note is that Florida has a mandatory 20-day waiting period from when you initiate your divorce filing before the divorce can be finalized. This cooling-off term is designed by state law as time for reflection and reconsideration before permanently dissolving a marriage. However, Florida law does not contain any specific requirements for a length of separation before filing for divorce.

Beyond this mandated waiting phase, the most critical factor that affects the minimum timeline of a Florida divorce is whether or not it is contested.

Different Divorce Lengths in Florida

Realistically, a conflict-free divorce in Florida could take as little as 45 days. A contested divorce could take significantly longer – even years – to resolve. 

Uncontested Divorce: If both parties agree to the split and on major issues such as property division, child custody (if applicable), and spousal support, this is considered an uncontested divorce, speeding up the process.

Contested Divorce: A contested divorce, where spouses can’t agree on one or more crucial issues, will take longer to complete. These cases do not necessarily go to trial, but often involve mediation sessions and court hearings to resolve disputes. Disagreements here will significantly extend the timeline of your divorce.

Divorce Process in Florida

Navigating the divorce process in Florida involves a series of legal steps that require meticulous attention to detail and deadlines. We’ve broken down this procedure into clear stages below:

Step One: Filing the Petition

The first step of initiating a divorce in Florida is to file a petition for dissolution of marriage. The petitioner must file this document in the county where either they or their spouse resides. 

Step Two: Responding to the Petition

Once served with divorce papers, your partner becomes “the respondent”. They have 20 days from service date to file an answer concerning your claims set forth within the petition. In their response, they should clearly state whether they agree or disagree with each point outlined in the initial filing, or if they lack sufficient information to address a particular issue.

Step Three: Document Discovery

The discovery process digs into each party’s finances by requiring each to provide detailed information. Spouses who agree on an uncontested or amicable divorce can skip this step.

As part of discovery, you’re required to furnish documents such as recent proof of income, statements for all bank accounts, summaries of retirement and investment portfolios, specifics of outstanding debts (like mortgage or credit card statements), along with your most recent tax returns.

Step Four: Engaging in Mediation

Mediation is an important step in the Florida divorce process, often strongly suggested by courts to resolve any outstanding disputes amicably. 

During this stage, both parties and their respective legal representatives meet with a neutral third-party mediator. The mediator’s role is to guide the discussion, helping both sides navigate through contested issues and come to an agreement.

Step Five: Creation of a Parenting Plan

In Florida, divorces that involve minor children require special consideration to ensure that the well-being and development of the children remain a top priority. To this end, both parents will be directed to craft a comprehensive parenting plan before finalizing their divorce.

This legally binding document outlines in detail how both parties intend to co-parent moving forward. Key elements include specifying each parent’s responsibilities for daily child-rearing tasks, time-sharing schedules (including holidays and school vacations), decision-making authority regarding health care and education, and methods for communication between parents about children-related matters like babysitting arrangements.

Step Six: Finalizing the Divorce

If the divorce remains contested at this stage, it will proceed to trial. At this point, a judge will make the final decision regarding disputed matters.

This stage offers both sides the opportunity to submit evidence and testimony supporting their positions on unresolved issues like property division, child custody arrangements, spousal support, or any other unresolved aspects of the divorce.

Whether you need guidance on specific aspects or comprehensive representation, an experienced attorney can help you navigate these steps.

Residency Requirements for Florida Divorce 

You need to have some roots in Florida for your divorce to be filed there. According to Florida divorce law § 61.021, at least one party involved in the divorce must have lived in the state for a minimum of six months before initiating the process. 

This rule balances accessibility with safeguards against cases being filed by those with little to no connection to Florida, ensuring that only residents can utilize its legal system for divorce proceedings.

Approximate Cost to File for Divorce in Florida 

The cost of filing for divorce in Florida can vary depending on the specifics of your case. However, there are some standard fees you should be aware of from the outset.

The filing fee in Florida is typically around $400. This is a mandatory expense for initiating your divorce proceedings and getting your case processed by the court.

Additionally, serving the other spouse with divorce papers can increase costs as well. Service fees will depend on how you choose to serve these documents. It’s typically cheaper to go through the sheriff’s office if that option is available to you, but more reliable to use a private process server or another qualified party. 

Securing the services of a skilled divorce attorney is often a crucial step for those going through this difficult time. The cost associated with retaining a divorce lawyer varies widely. While cost is always a valid concern, working with a lawyer is often beneficial for certain aspects of the divorce.

Reasons for Divorce in Florida

Florida follows no-fault divorce principles, simplifying the grounds required for legally ending a marriage.

Under this no-fault approach, you do not need to prove any form of misdoing or fault on the part of your spouse. Instead, you must simply demonstrate that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” This term essentially conveys that there has been an irreparable breakdown in marital relations and there is no chance of reconciliation.

Having reasons for a divorce may benefit you when determining alimony or child custody arrangements, but the court does not give special weight to those reasons when approving a divorce.

Division of Property in Florida Divorces

Florida is an equitable distribution state, meaning marital assets will be divided equitably between ex-spouses in a manner that is deemed fair by the court.

Equitable does not necessarily mean equal; it means just and reasonable based on each party’s situation. Don’t assume you’re entitled to exactly half of every asset accumulated during the marriage.

The divorce distribution of assets considers several factors. Examples include:

  • Contribution to the Marriage: This includes both financial contributions and non-financial ones such as homemaking or child-rearing.
  • Economic Circumstances: The current financial standing of each spouse can influence who receives what.
  • Interruptions in Career, Education, or Personal Goals: If one spouse sacrificed career advancement or education so the other could progress, this will usually be considered.

Navigating the division of property in a Florida divorce hinges on understanding that assets are not split down the middle but rather allocated based on principles of fairness and equity, taking into account numerous factors to achieve a distribution that serves justice to both parties.

Spousal Support and Child Custody Considerations in Florida

Spousal support (often known as alimony) and child custody are some of the hardest issues to resolve in any separation. Recent laws have changed the way these matters were previously handled in the Sunshine State. 

Child Custody in Florida

The rules surrounding child custody matters saw updates from a law that took effect on July 1, 2023. There now exists a presumption favoring “equal timesharing.” This means the court assumes a 50/50 split in child custody is best for the child unless the other parent can show otherwise. 

Modifications to pre-existing child custody assignments have been made more accessible by this new bill as well. Previously, parties needed to demonstrate an “unanticipated” change in circumstances and show that it’s substantial enough to reconsider custody agreements. Now, parties do not need to show that the change in circumstances was unanticipated. 

Alimony in Florida

Spousal support (or alimony) aims to ensure that both parties maintain a comparable standard of living post-divorce as they did during the marriage. 

In Florida, the approach to spousal support also changed in 2023. Couples that have been married for less than three years will now have a harder time petitioning for alimony. “Permanent” alimony orders have been disfavored and alimony can be easily modified by a judge, among other alterations. Consulting with a lawyer is the best approach to understand how these changes may affect your divorce now or in the future.

State law codifies multiple forms of spousal support tailored to diverse needs and circumstances: temporary (offered through the divorce proceedings), bridge-the-gap (provides short-term assistance post-divorce), rehabilitative (aims at helping one party become financially independent), and durational (awarded for a set period after the divorce). 

Choosing to end a marriage is undoubtedly one of the hardest decisions you might ever face, and what follows this choice – the divorce process – is far from straightforward.

It’s during these trying times that the guidance of experienced legal counsel becomes invaluable. Whether your situation requires comprehensive support throughout every stage of your divorce or targeted assistance for specific issues, professional help can significantly ease the burden of navigating through this complex life transition.

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