You’ve made the decision to divorce, but what does that mean in Florida? Knowing these 7 things about getting a divorce in Florida will make the process easier from start to finish.
- What’s the first step?
The first legal step in the Florida divorce is for a spouse to file a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” including the required additional documents with the Family Division of the local circuit court. The other spouse is then served with documents by local law enforcement or a private process server and is given a timeframe (20 days from date of service) to respond. Collaborative divorces, in which both parties agree on how to divide property, debt and responsibilities for the children, can be finalized prior to initiating any litigation and then filed as a simplified divorce where both parties have already agreed. Otherwise, a hearing date will be set.
- Division of Marital Assets
Florida law requires an equitable, or fair, division of marital property between spouses. While equitable typically means “equal”, a judge may decide to divide property in a different proportion if equal division would be unfair. Only marital assets and debts (those acquired/taken on both separately and together during the marriage) are divided. In Florida, these assets include, but are not limited to, all vested or non-vested benefits, rights or funds either spouse accrues during the marriage, including retirement, pension, profit-sharing, annuity, deferred compensation, and insurance plans and programs.
As a general rule, anything you owned before getting married and any gift you were given during the marriage, not by your spouse, is considered non-marital property and therefore is not subject to division. However, non-marital property can become marital property if it is transferred into joint names at any point during the marriage or marital funds are intermingled during the marriage.
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There are no exact guidelines for alimony in Florida, but the law does list factors a judge must consider. These include
- The lifestyle the couple had prior to the divorce (during the marriage);
- The length of the marriage;
- The ability of one spouse to pay and the need of the other spouse to receive; and
- The amount of property to be divided.
There is no legal preference if you are a man or woman, either spouse can seek alimony. Courts are supposed to make decisions without regard to gender.
- Timesharing (Child Custody/Visitation)
Florida judges base their timesharing decisions on the best interests of a child. Florida law acknowledges that children typically benefit from maintaining frequent contact with both parents and having both parents participate in parental decision-making post divorce. The judge will consider many factors relevant to parenting including, but not limited to:
- Willingness to promote a meaningful relationship with child and other parent
- Health and safety
- Emotional and developmental needs
- Co-parenting and communication skills
- Moral Fitness
- Custody Options
- Parenting Plans
- Child Support
The State of Florida uses child support guidelines as defined in Florida law.
These guidelines consider:
- The net income of both parents
- The child’s health care
- The child care costs
- The amount of overnights each parent receives per month with the child
- The standard needs for the child (which is based on the child’s age and parents’ net income). Estimated support amounts can be found here.
While the guidelines must be used by the court or agency establishing the amount of child support in a Florida support order, an attorney can request a deviation of child support, adding or subtracting 5% after documenting and presenting evidence to the court or by approval of the parties.
Debts associated with separate or non-marital property are not subject to division in a divorce.
All assets and debts acquired by either spouse during the marriage are considered marital property. (Note: It doesn’t matter if the debt is titled jointly or in only one spouse’s name.)
This marital debt can include:
- Credit card debt
- Vehicle loans
- Joint business debt
Florida courts generally divide the value of all marital debt equally. That said, the responsibility for actual payment is assigned to one spouse or the other.
If dividing the debt equally seems unfair under all of the circumstances, a court may elect to divide it unequally. (An example of this is if one spouse amassed a great sum of credit card debt by spending recklessly. He/she may be assigned a greater portion of that debt.)
- Documents To Gather
Make copies of all important financial papers, such as: tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, pension statements, investment statements, 401k documents, mortgages, etc. Also take an inventory, including the value of your significant household and family possessions and have it ready when you meet with your attorney.
Knowing what lies ahead is important when it comes to the complex issues of divorce. If you are getting a divorce in Florida, be sure to find an experienced divorce attorney that you trust to help you navigate the process.
To obtain more information regarding divorce in Florida, download our eBook: Finding Your New Horizon: 7 Considerations in Planning Your Florida Divorce.