Getting a divorce in Florida
When it comes to getting a divorce in Florida, there’s the right way to go about it – and then there’s the way that involves plenty of work, headaches and heartaches for all parties involved.
If you or your spouse has decided to file for divorce in Florida, at least one of you must be a resident of the state or a member of an armed force stationed in the state. If both you and your spouse agree that there are “irreconcilable differences,” and there should be a divorce, you can agree in writing to end the marriage. If one of you denies that the marriage is broken beyond repair or you have a child, the court may order counseling with a marriage counselor, priest or rabbi, or psychologist for up to three months.
How to Begin the Process of Divorce for Florida Residents
Also called a “dissolution” of the marriage, Florida divorces legally begin when you or your spouse files a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” with the Family Department of the local circuit court. The court serves the other spouse with the paperwork and gives him or her time to respond. If both you and your spouse agree on how to divide property, debt and responsibilities for any children, the divorce can be finalized without a trial. Otherwise, the court will assign a time for a hearing.
Any assets and debts amassed during the marriage, referred to as “marital assets,” will be divided “equitably,” or fairly, upon divorce. Any assets you had before marriage may be considered “non-marital assets” if they were kept separated from property acquired during the marriage. You and your spouse can each retain your non-marital assets.
Dividing of Marital Property
Judges will divide assets equally, unless there is a basis for unequal distribution. The judge will consider both you and your spouse’s economic circumstances and the contributions each of you made to the marriage (including care for children and your marital home). If either you or your spouse wants to keep your marital home to live in with a child from the marriage, that may also be a factor for unequal distribution.
Alimony is an extension of the obligation for spouses to support each other financially during the marriage. In divorce laws in Florida, a court can order alimony if it is “well-founded.” Factors the courts will look at include: the standard of living during the marriage; the length of the marriage; and the age and physical condition of each spouse.
If you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement on child custody, the court will make a decision based on what is in the “best interests” of the child. Unless there is a reason that it would be detrimental to your child’s upbringing, the court will usually grant shared responsibility. Sometimes the court will give one parent responsibility over specific aspects of a child’s welfare, such as primary residence, education or medical care. The court will consider the moral fitness of you and your spouse as parents, your abilities to provide for the child and the preference of the child, among other factors.
Divorce laws in Florida include child support guidelines that judges use to figure out the support needed for a child and how much each parent has to pay. The court looks at both parent’s incomes and the child’s health and child care costs. Florida’s standard needs table lists support amounts based on the child’s age and the parent’s income. The court can also set aside joint or separate assets of the parents in a trust or fund for future support and education for the children.
Documents You Will Need
The court will need to know about all of your assets in order to divide them. Make copies of tax returns, bank statements, mortgage documents and any other financial information possible. This will save you time and money down the road. You should also take inventory of your major household and family possessions. A detailed household budget will help the court determine how much temporary support can be paid as well as if either you or your spouse can realistically afford your marital home on your own.
Any debt incurred before the marriage, such as educational debt, is not considered while dividing debts. Like assets, the debts will be divided equitably. If you have a mortgage, the court may order both of you to split the debt; if you stay in the home, the mortgage may be restructured to make you the sole owner and borrower.
It is important to think about how a divorce, for Florida residents, will change your taxes. Property transfers, taxability of alimony payments and dependency deductions for children may all affect your tax filing status. Working with an accountant along with your lawyer will help you avoid making mistakes you may not be able to fix after the divorce.