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The information presented within this section is for general informational purposes and is NOT and should not be considered as being "legal advice". You should not act on any information presented herein without the discussing your situation with an attorney licensed to practice law in Florida.

What is a “Dissolution of Marriage”?

In Florida, the legal term for divorce is “Dissolution of Marriage”.

How long do I need to live in Florida before I can file for a Dissolution of Marriage?

One of the parties to a Dissolution of Marriage must reside in Florida for at least six months.

My spouse does not want a divorce, can I still get one?

Yes. If one party believes that the marriage is irretrievably broken, or if one party has been adjudicated incompetent for more than three years, a dissolution can be granted by the Court.

Where should I file for Dissolution of Marriage?

An action for a Dissolution of Marriage should be filed in the Circuit Court for the county in which the parties last lived together, or alternatively, in the Circuit Court for the county in which the responding party resides.

How long does it take to get a Dissolution of Marriage?

By statute, the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage cannot be entered until 20 days after the Petition is filed. In theory, a Dissolution of Marriage must take at least 20 days. In some instances, where the parties have entered into a settlement agreement, the Court may waive the 20 day waiting period and enter the Final Judgment. However, that is unusual.

The length of time involved in dissolving a marriage varies depending upon whether or not the action is uncontested or contested. In an uncontested action where the parties enter into a settlement agreement, the Dissolution can normally be finalized within four to six weeks after the agreement is signed. However, considerable time may lapse in reaching the agreement, and as such, the overall process may last many months.

When one party does not respond to the Petition and a default is entered, the action is also considered to be uncontested. Upon obtaining, the Clerk’s default, a trial date can be requested. In this situation, the length of time for the divorce to be finalized depends on how long it will take for the Court to set a trial date. Under normal circumstances, the trial will be set within 90 days of the request, and the matter concluded shortly after the trial.

The length of time to complete a contested divorce will depend on the complexity of the issues presented. If assets need to be appraised and valued, this could take several months. Additionally, if experts are retained to conduct parenting or custody evaluations, the length of the divorce process will increase significantly. It is not uncommon for a complex contested divorce to take 6 to 9 months to complete and occasionally more than a year.

How is my spouse notified of the dissolution of marriage?

Once the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Clerk issues a summons. The summons indicates that a dissolution of marriage has been filed.

The issued summons, along with a copy of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and all other documents filed, are personally delivered to the spouse by a Sheriff or private process server. There is a fee for delivering the summons and documents, which is typically about $ 40.00. After the documents are delivered, the Sheriff or process server files a “Return of Service” which indicates when the documents were delivered.

The formal process of issuing and serving the summons and Petition can be avoid if the other party voluntarily signs an Acceptance of Service, which is then filed with the Clerk of Court.

How long does my spouse have to file a response to the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage?

If the responding party lives in Florida, that party has 20 days after service of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage to file with the Clerk of Court a written response.

Do I need to hire an attorney to represent me?

Maybe. The Florida Supreme Court has created a series of forms that are available over the internet for people to use when they represent themselves in a divorce. Those forms can be found at www.flcourts.org. The forms come with instructions and with careful reading can be completed by the average individual. Additionally, there are numerous self-help books that can be purchased to guide a person through the divorce process.

It is advisable to hire an attorney to assist you when the divorce involves complicated issues, such as the division of retirement accounts, child custody or alimony, or when the marital estate is very large.

I cannot afford to hire an attorney, will the Court appoint one to represent me?

No. The right to a court appointed attorney exists in some criminal actions and in actions involving the termination of parental rights. You do not have a right to a court appointed attorney in a Dissolution of Marriage action. However, based upon your financial circumstances, you may be entitled to an award of attorney fees and costs that would assist you in hiring an attorney.

Can I have my child testify?

If your child is less than 18 years old, you need to have the permission from the Court for the child to testify in a family law case. Do not bring the child to the Courthouse until you are granted permission to let the child testify. Most Judges do not want children to testify in their parent’s divorce or custody actions. Almost never are children under the age of 12 allowed to testify. Occasionally, children 13 or older are allowed to testify if the child has information that is relevant and can not be presented through any other witness.

Most Judges frown upon bringing children into Court. Children typically love both parents and should not be ask to testify against a parent. Children who testify against a parent frequently feel guilty and are embarrassed by their parent’s behaviors. Often when a party request to have a child testify, it gives the impression that that party does not care about his child’s feelings. Thus, you should generally refrain from asking to have children testify.

At what age can my child decide where he wants to live?

A child’s preference is just one factor the Court considers when deciding upon what parenting schedule should be adopted. Florida does not have an age at which the child can decide where to live. The Court, or the parties by agreement, must make that decision.

My spouse refuses to pay child support. Can I deny visitation?

No. The failure to pay child support is not a legal reason to deny visitation or contact with the children.

When does the obligation for child support terminate?

In Florida, a parent’s obligation to pay child support normally terminates when a child reaches 18 years of age, marries, dies, or joins the military. However, in the event the child turns 18 while enrolled in high school and that child will graduate before turning 19, the obligation for support extends until the child graduates. In short, the obligation to pay child support can be extended to when the child graduates from high school if the child turns 18 years old during his senior year in high school.

My spouse will not allow me to have visitation or contact with my children. Do I still have to pay child support?

Yes. Being denied visitation or parenting rights is not a legal reason to not pay child support.

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Copyright 2008 by Mira Staggers White; revised 09/08