This guide is for people in Florida who are thinking about getting divorced or have already started the process.
We cover everything from the basics, like what the grounds for divorce are in Florida, to the complicated, like how child custody works.
If you don’t find the answers you need here, feel free to email through our contact form.
Who is eligible for a divorce in Florida?
If you or your spouse has been a Florida resident for at least six months, you can file for divorce in Florida (FL §61.021).
You can prove your Florida residence in a few different ways. You can provide your Florida driver’s license, ID card, or voter registration. If you don’t have access to any of those documents, a witness, such as your landlord or employer, can swear to a judge that you’ve lived in Florida for at least six months. If your witness can’t make it to court to give live testimony, they can sign an affidavit (a legal document, signed in front of a notary) instead.
What are the grounds for divorce in Florida?
The only grounds for divorce in Florida are an “irretrievably broken” marriage, meaning you do not have to prove that either you or your spouse committed some sort of fault, such as adultery (FL §61.052).
If you can demonstrate that your spouse has been “mentally incapacitated” for at least three years, you are also eligible to file for divorce.
Can Florida legally require me to seek marriage counseling before my divorce?
Yes. If you and your spouse share a minor child, or your spouse denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken, Florida can legally require you and/or your spouse to “consult with a marriage counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, minister, priest, rabbi, or any other person deemed qualified by the court and acceptable to the party or parties orders to seek consultation” (FL §61.052).
What is the divorce process in Florida?
File papers with the court
You will need to file an official petition for divorce (a summary of the different petitions required for different circumstances is provided below), and formally notify your spouse by “serving” them. The petition should be filed with the Florida circuit court corresponding to your residence:
Source: Florida Courts
Florida provides a helpful step-by-step guide to filling out court forms on your own, without a lawyer’s help.
How do I serve my spouse in Florida?
If you are filing a petition for a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage (more info on that below), you need to file the petition along with your spouse. If you are filing any other type of divorce petition, you need to serve your spouse using either personal or constructive service.
Personal service, which most people will want to use, involves delivering a copy of the divorce petition to your spouse in person. Personal service is the quickest and simplest method of proceeding with a divorce and is recommended if you know where your spouse lives or how to find them.
What if I can’t find my spouse?
Constructive service, also known as service by publication, should only be used in cases where your spouse cannot be found and served personally (Florida Affidavit of Diligent Search and Inquiry). You can request that the court publish a notice of your divorce filing in a “generally circulated” newspaper. Typically, the notice must run in the newspaper for four consecutive weeks, which newspapers tend to charge around $200 for. Since constructive service is expensive and can become legally messy, potentially involving multiple state courts if your spouse has left Florida, it should be treated as an absolute last resort. Another drawback of constructive service is that notification through this method is sufficient to initiate divorce proceedings, but if you want to collect alimony or child support, you will need to provide proof that your spouse has been personally notified.
If you do need to pursue constructive service, you will need to complete the Affidavit of Diligent Search and Inquiry. If you and your spouse don’t share children, you also need to submit the Notice of Action for Dissolution of Marriage (No Child or Financial Support). If you and your spouse do share children, you need to submit the Notice of Action for Family Cases with Minor or Dependent Children.
What forms and documents are required?
There are four different kinds of divorce petitions, depending on which type of divorce you are seeking.
Simplified Dissolution of Marriage
A Simplified Dissolution of Marriage is the quickest and most straightforward way to navigate a divorce, for couples who are already on the same page about how they would like their divorce to proceed. You and your spouse can pursue a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage in Florida if the following apply:
You and your spouse agree that the marriage is over.
You do not have children together and no spouse is pregnant or gave birth during the marriage.
You and your spouse have already agreed on how to settle any assets (things you both own) and liabilities (things you both owe). You can officially document this agreement with the Marital Settlement Agreement for Simplified Dissolution of Marriage, which needs to be signed by both of you in front of a notary or a deputy clerk of the court, or it can be a private oral or written agreement.
Neither you nor your spouse is seeking alimony.
Neither you nor your spouse is interested in pursuing a divorce trial or an appeal of a judge’s decision.
You and your spouse are both willing to sign the divorce petition (which can be done separately) and to attend a final divorce hearing (which you need to attend together).
Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with No Dependent or Minor Child(ren) or Property
If you and your spouse do not have children, neither of you are pregnant, neither of you is seeking alimony, and the two of you have no joint assets or liabilities, you can pursue a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with No Dependent or Minor Child(ren) or Property. The only difference between this petition and the Simplified Dissolution of Marriage petition is this petition allows you to request a financial disclosure from your spouse before you come to a final agreement, so it could be helpful in scenarios where you suspect or know your spouse is hiding financial information.
Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Property but No Dependent or Minor Child(ren)
If you and your spouse do not have children and neither of you are pregnant, but you disagree about property or debts and/or one of you is seeking alimony, you need to pursue a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Property but No Dependent or Minor Child(ren). You can also file this petition if you want to learn more about your spouse’s financial situation by legally requesting documentation or questioning them in court. If you are seeking temporary alimony, you can file a Motion for Temporary Support with No Dependent or Minor Children.
Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Dependent or Minor Child(ren)
If you and your spouse have children together or one of you is pregnant, you need to file the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Dependent or Minor Child(ren). Unlike other petitions, this petition needs to be signed by at least one of you in front of a notary or a deputy court clerk. You may also be required to file additional forms, as this situation is the most complicated divorce proceeding:
UCCJEA Affidavit, required in all cases.
Child Support Guidelines Worksheet, if you are requesting child support and know your spouse’s income (if you do not know your spouse’s income, you can file this document later in the process – more details in “Child Support” section).
Marital Settlement Agreement for Dissolution of Marriage with Dependent or Minor Child(ren), if you and your spouse have agreed beforehand on all divorce-related issues.
Related: Parenting Plan, if you and your spouse have agreed to one (more details on parenting plans and child custody below).
Motion for Temporary Support and Time-Sharing with Dependent or Minor Children, if you are seeking a temporary order from the judge regarding child support and/or child custody (more details in “Temporary Orders” section).
Additional required forms
All divorce petitions require a completed Family Court Cover Sheet to be submitted alongside them. For all petitions besides the Simplified Dissolution of Marriage, you will also need to submit the following forms:
A Family Law Financial Affidavit, which needs to be filed at the same time as the divorce petition if you are seeking child support. If you are not seeking child support, you can file within 45 days of your spouse receiving the divorce petition. If your income is under $50,000, you need to file the Family Law Financial Affidavit – income under $50,000. If your income is over $50,000, you need to file the Family Law Financial Affidavit – income over $50,000.
A Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure, stating that you will continue to notify your spouse of all important documents and filings throughout the divorce process.
What’s the timeline?
In all divorce proceedings besides the Simplified Dissolution of Marriage, your spouse has 20 days to respond to your divorce petition. If your spouse does not respond within 20 days, you can file a Motion for Default and contact the court clerk, a member of the family law intake staff, or the judge’s judicial assistant to schedule the final divorce hearing. Once the hearing is scheduled, you need to notify your spouse of the hearing’s date and time using the official Notice of Hearing form (you need to submit this form even if your spouse has still not responded to your divorce petition).
If you are the spouse being served with a divorce petition, you have two options to file a response. If you don’t want to argue with any of the information in your spouse’s petition, you can file an Answer to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. If you do want to contest some of the information, you should file a counterpetition (which will likely result in court hearings). There are three different counterpetitions to file, depending on your specific circumstances:
If there are no children or property involved in the divorce, you can file the Answer to Petition and Counterpetition for Dissolution of Marriage with No Dependent or Minor Child(ren) or Property. This petition is typically filed not because one spouse wants to contest the information the other spouse filed in their petition, as there usually isn’t much to contest in a divorce without children or property, but because the responding spouse wants to request something of the court that the filing spouse didn’t include in their petition, such as getting their former name back.
If there is property involved, you can file the Answer to Petition and Counterpetition for Dissolution of Marriage with Property but No Dependent or Minor Child(ren).
If there are children involved, you can file the Answer to Petition and Counterpetition for Dissolution of Marriage with Dependent or Minor Child(ren).
If you are the spouse being served with the divorce petition, and you miss the 20-day window to respond and your spouse files a Motion for Default, you can file a Motion to Set Aside Default or Default Judgment in response. Keep in mind that you will need to prove there was some sort of “mistake, inadvertence, excusable neglect, newly discovered evidence, or fraud” when filing such a motion. Essentially, you need to demonstrate an extenuating circumstance that made it impossible for you to respond within 20 days, not that you just forgot.
If you are the spouse serving the divorce petition, and your spouse responds within 20 days with a counterpetition, you then need to file an Answer to Counterpetition.
Are there required financial disclosures?
Yes. Within 45 days of filing the divorce petition, both spouses will need to file a financial affidavit providing complete financial disclosure (Florida Bar: Automatic Financial Disclosure).
Negotiate major issues with your spouse
Once you have filed all the divorce paperwork, if you and your spouse have not already come to some sort of agreement on how to proceed with your divorce, you will have to negotiate. Some of the major divorce issues you will have to navigate include:
Marital property and debts
Spousal support/maintenance (AKA alimony)
Any other issues that matter to you, such as who keeps the pets.
If you can come to an agreement on these issues, great! A pre-determined agreement is referred to as an “uncontested” divorce, and you can proceed by reaching out to court staff to schedule the final hearing. Keep in mind that whichever spouse schedules the hearing is still required to legally notify the other spouse using the aforementioned Notice of Hearing form.
If you don’t agree, that makes things more complicated. There are several options for handling divorce proceedings when there’s disagreement between divorcing spouses.
Mediation involves coming to an agreement without using lawyers (Mediation in Florida). If you and your spouse disagree about the marital home, parental responsibility, child custody, or child support, the courts can refer you to professional mediation. In some county courts, professional mediation services are required before you can proceed to a divorce trial.
Professional mediators are trained in dealing with conflict and communication, and they have years of experience in helping couples work through divorce. A mediator can help you and your spouse have a constructive discussion about your disagreements and help the two of you reach an agreement on the issues you couldn’t resolve on your own. Professional mediators are barred from providing therapy or legal advice, as they are intended to help facilitate conversation and negotiation. Lawyers are not required to be present during mediation, although you can bring yours with you if you like.
If you and your spouse can come to an agreement through mediation, the mediator will help prepare a “consent order,” a summary of the agreement. Both spouses will sign the order and the mediator will submit it to the judge.
If you and your spouse proactively seek out professional mediation before your divorce case is filed, and you can come to an agreement, that agreement is referred to as a “pre-suit judgment,” and can be submitted to the judge at the same time as the divorce filing. There are several forms associated with this process:
Marital Settlement Agreement for Simplified Dissolution of Marriage, if there is no property or children involved.
Marital Settlement Agreement for Dissolution of Marriage with Property but No Dependent or Minor Child(ren), if there is property but no children.
Marital Settlement Agreement for Dissolution of Marriage with Dependent or Minor Child(ren), if you and your spouse have children (or one of you is pregnant).
In most cases, the spouses will be able to select their mediator, but if you can’t agree on one, the court may assign one to you. If you and your spouse are assigned a mediator, you will be charged based on your combined income. Mediators typically charge by the hour, and costs can range from $150 – $600 per hour (Custody XChange – Alternative Ways to Decide Parental Responsibility in FL).
If mediation fails, it is referred to as an “impasse,” and the mediator will refer you back to the court.
It is possible to come to what is referred to as a “partial agreement” during mediation. In a partial agreement, the spouses agree on some aspects of the divorce but not others. For example, they may decide it’s okay for one spouse to keep the house, but they can’t come to an agreement on child custody. If a partial agreement is reached, that agreement is considered a legally binding document, and the spouses must proceed to court to solve the rest of their disputes.
You can learn more about mediation in our posts 10 Reasons to Consider Mediation When Getting Divorced and Creating a Parenting Plan Through Mediation.
Collaborative divorce involves you and your spouse coming to an agreement not with the help of a mediator, but with the help of both of your lawyers (Florida Bar: Collaborative Law). Both of your lawyers will sign a legally binding document stating that, if you are unable to come to an agreement, neither lawyer will represent either of you in court. This process aligns everyone’s incentives to find an agreement. For you and your spouse, if you can’t figure out an agreement, you will have to find new attorneys before you proceed to court, which will cost you both time and money. For your lawyers, if they can’t help you come to an agreement, they lose you both as clients, as opposed to continuing to charge you to help you litigate your divorce in court.
The collaborative divorce process can begin either before or after you file your divorce petition. It usually lasts between six months and a year.
Other professionals, such as mental health counselors, neutral facilitators, mediators, parenting coordinators, child development specialists, religious advisors, and financial experts can also be brought into the collaborative divorce process if either spouse wishes.
Read more about collaborative divorce in our article What is Collaborative Divorce and Why Should I Use It?
If you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement through negotiation, mediation, or collaborative divorce, you and/or your divorce lawyers (just not the same ones you may have used in your collaborative divorce negotiations) can argue your case in front of a judge.
Florida sometimes allows the use of “private judging,” in which spouses can hire a retired judge to decide their case (Custody XChange – Alternative Ways to Decide Parental Responsibility in FL). There are some advantages to the process of private judging. You will receive more personalized attention, as your case will likely be the only case the judge is working on. Your case will also probably be decided more quickly than it would be in a normal court proceeding since the judge will have a more flexible schedule. But private judges charge between $500 - $800 an hour, so this option is quite a bit more expensive.
If you choose to go with a private judge, the litigation process will proceed in the same manner as if you were in a public court. The use of private judges may not be allowed in all circumstances, so make sure you double-check with both your lawyer and the courts before proceeding.
If you choose to have a public trial, your judge will typically host a pretrial conference (Golden Key Law Group – Divorce and Child Custody in Florida). This conference is intended to establish and explain all the rules relating to the trial to you, your spouse, and both of your attorneys. Depending on the county, a pretrial conference may be scheduled for two weeks before the trial’s start date, or you may learn your trial’s start date at the pretrial conference.
It is possible for you and your spouse to come to a settlement at the pretrial conference and never need to proceed to a formal divorce trial.
Going to court
If you do need to proceed to trial, you will likely attend multiple divorce hearings, all of which both you and your spouse need to be present for. At these hearings, each spouse has the right to examine and cross-examine the other (although the lawyers will most likely be the ones actually asking questions in the courtroom).
If your divorce is uncontested, i.e., you have come to an agreement between the two of you via mediation, collaborative divorce, or another method, you both will still have to attend at least one court hearing to finalize your divorce.
Finalizing the divorce
Regardless of whether you proceed to trial or come to some other sort of agreement, your marriage cannot be formally legally dissolved until at least 20 days past the day you initially filed your divorce petition. In most instances, divorce proceedings take months if not years, so this timeline won’t apply in the majority of cases. But even if you are pursuing a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage, the quickest divorce option, keep in mind that the process will take three weeks at minimum, unless you can demonstrate that some kind of injustice will result from that timeline (FL §61.19).
If you are unhappy with the judge’s final decision on your divorce, you can appeal, but you should understand that your appeal is unlikely to overturn the judge’s ruling unless you can prove the judge made some sort of legal error (Florida Bar: Appeals). You have 30 days from the date of the judge’s decision to submit an appeal.
Spousal support is also often described as spousal maintenance or alimony. In Florida law, spousal support is referred to as alimony (FL §61.08).
Who is required to pay alimony?
In Florida, either spouse may be required to pay alimony to the other. The court will consider any spousal adultery and surrounding circumstances in determining who pays alimony. Other considerations the court will make include each spouse’s need for alimony, and each spouse’s ability to pay alimony (Florida Bar Association: Alimony). These considerations will be determined by the following factors:
“The standard of living established during the marriage” (FL §61.08).
How long the marriage lasted:
Florida law defines a short-term marriage as one that lasted less than seven years.
A moderate-term marriage is defined as lasting longer than seven years but fewer than 17 years.
A long-term marriage is defined as one that lasted 17 years or longer.
Each spouse’s age and physical/emotional health.
Each spouse’s financial resources after the division of marital property (more details on what is considered marital property in “Property Division” section).
Each spouse’s education level, vocational skills, employability, and earning capacity. This consideration includes the time it would take for each spouse to acquire the education and/or training required for employment.
Each spouse’s parenting responsibilities.
Each spouse’s contribution to homemaking and the education or career-building of the other spouse, i.e. if one spouse did not work (and therefore is less employable) in order to primarily care for the children so that the other spouse could focus on their career.
The tax implications of any awarded alimony.
All sources of income for both spouses, including investments.
How much alimony will be needed?
The amount of alimony one spouse may be required to pay to the other is also dependent on the factors listed above. Alimony payments could be periodic, in one lump sum, or a combination of both.
If one spouse is required to pay alimony, that person may also be required to purchase and maintain a life insurance policy so that the alimony payments could be continued in the event of their death.
Unless some sort of extraordinary circumstances apply, one spouse cannot legally be required to pay so much in alimony that their net income is significantly lower than the other spouse’s.
How long will alimony be required?
How long one spouse may be required to pay alimony is dependent on which type of alimony is awarded. There are four types of alimony in Florida:
Bridge-the-gap alimony is intended to support someone’s transition from being married to being single. It is designed to “assist a party with legitimate identifiable short-term needs” (FL §61.08). Bridge-the-gap alimony cannot be required for more than two years, and after it is awarded, the size of the payment(s) and how long the payments are required can’t be changed (unless one spouse dies or the spouse receiving bridge-the-gap alimony remarries).
Rehabilitative alimony is intended to support a person through the process of becoming able to support themselves. This process could include recertification of previous skills or credentials, or completing education, training, or sufficient work experience to develop certain skills or credentials. Rehabilitative alimony ends when the “rehabilitative period” is complete, i.e. the person receiving alimony has the skills and/or credentials considered necessary to be financially independent.
Durational alimony is intended to provide economic assistance for a set period, which cannot be longer than the marriage itself was. Durational alimony can also end before the predetermined duration if one spouse dies or the spouse receiving durational alimony remarries.
Permanent alimony is intended to maintain the “needs and necessities of life” as they were provided during the marriage. It ends only upon the death of one spouse or the remarriage of the spouse receiving permanent alimony. Permanent alimony is approached differently depending on the length of the marriage:
For a long-term marriage, permanent alimony can be awarded based on the regular alimony factors referenced above.
For a moderate-term marriage, the regular alimony factors will be considered, plus the spouse requesting alimony needs to provide “clear and convincing” evidence that permanent alimony is required.
For a short-term marriage, no regular alimony factors will be considered and the spouse requesting alimony needs to provide written evidence of “exceptional circumstances.”
Can alimony be changed?
Whether or not alimony can be changed depends on the type of alimony that was awarded.
For bridge-the-gap alimony, no change is allowed except for specific instances (the death of a spouse or the remarriage of the spouse receiving alimony).
For rehabilitative alimony, the amount can be changed if the spouse receiving alimony does not complete the agreed-upon recertification, education, training, or work experience. Rehabilitative alimony can also be modified due to a “substantial change in circumstances” (FL §61.14).
Florida law defines a substantial change in circumstances as a change in the financial ability of either the person paying alimony or the person receiving it (this change can also apply in the case of child support payments, see “Child Support” section). If either person can prove a substantial change in circumstances, they can request the court to adjust their alimony payments, and that adjustment can also apply retroactively, i.e. one person may have to pay more or return previously paid alimony payments.
For durational alimony, the same definition of substantial change in circumstances applies when it comes to changing the amount of the alimony payments, but the duration of the alimony period cannot change unless there is some kind of exceptional circumstance.
For permanent alimony, payments can be modified based either on a substantial change in circumstances or because of the existence of a “supportive relationship.” Florida law defines a supportive relationship as one that exists between the person who receives alimony and another person who provides financial support and who lives with the alimony recipient. Essentially, a supportive relationship exists if the spouse receiving alimony has a new partner that is supporting them financially, but they are not legally married to this new person.
The “supportive relationship” clause exists in Florida law in case one person attempts to circumnavigate the rule that alimony payments stop upon remarriage by living with a new partner but remaining unmarried. The person paying alimony is responsible for demonstrating to the court that such a relationship exists. The court will consider the following factors when determining whether a relationship can be considered “supportive”:
How similar the relationship is to a marriage, i.e. if the two people use the same last name, share a mailing address, refer to each other as wife/husband/spouse, etc.
How long the two people have lived together.
The extent to which the two people have merged their finances.
How much financial support the two people provide to each other.
Any “valuable services” the two people have provided to each other, or the other person’s company or employer.
If the two people have created or enhanced anything of value, such as restoring a home.
If the two people have bought property together.
If the two people have come to some sort of agreement regarding financial support. The agreement can be an express agreement, one that has been formally stated and agreed to, or it can be an implied agreement, one without any official documentation but one which both people understand.
If the two people have provided support to each other’s children, regardless of any legal obligation to do so.
No matter what state you live in, child custody in divorce cases is always a detailed topic. It’s so detailed that we wrote a specific guide dedicated just to child custody in Florida.
Here are a few questions the guide covers in-depth:
What does child custody consist of in Florida?
How does Florida make custody decisions?
What does “best interest of the child” mean?
What goes into a parenting plan?
A few key points to keep in mind:
Custody in Florida is broken out into legal custody, which is decision-making responsibility regarding aspects of a child’s life, and physical custody, which refers to the day-to-day responsibility of childcare.
While Florida courts prefer for both parents to share custody, ultimately custody decisions are based on the best interests of the child(ren).
It is easier for everyone, including the court, if parents are able to come to an agreement on child custody and a parenting plan, and the courts provide several resources to assist parents in the process and avoid potential judicial involvement.
Demonstrating a willingness to collaborate with the other parent on a parenting plan will help show the court that you are prioritizing the best interests of your child.
The guiding philosophy of Florida’s approach to child support is that each parent has a responsibility to support their children, and support will be calculated based on the parents’ combined net income as if the parents and child(ren) were all still living in the same household (FL §61.29, FL §61.30).
How much will each parent pay?
Each parent’s child support contributions are dependent on a variety of factors, first and foremost of which is their net income. Net income is determined to include:
Salary and wages.
A note on salary and wages: if you have children outside of your marriage with your spouse, and you take a second job or side hustle to support those additional children, the court may choose to not consider your secondary income when determining required child support if you can prove that the primary purpose of your second job is to support your other children.
Bonuses, commissions, overtime pay, allowances, tips, etc.
Business income, from self-employment, business partnerships, and/or independent contracts. In all cases of business income, net business income will be considered, AKA gross business income minus any expenses of running the business.
Pension, retirement, and/or annuity benefits.
Social security benefits.
Any received alimony.
Interest and dividends.
Rental income, which is treated similarly to business income in that the court will consider gross rental income minus the expenses of maintaining the rental.
Income from trusts or estates.
Net income is calculated to include any of the above, minus any of the below:
Mandatory retirement contributions.
Health insurance payments, except for those covering the child(ren).
Court-ordered support for other children.
Any paid alimony.
Florida provides a worksheet for you to determine how much you will be contributing to child support, once you have figured out your net income.
Can the court adjust how much a parent may pay?
There may be cases where the worksheet will not apply because the court will make an adjustment to the child support calculations.
One example of a situation where the court will become involved is if a parent is “voluntarily” unemployed or underemployed. In such an instance, the court may require the parent to pay a certain amount of child support regardless of their current income level. Voluntary unemployment or underemployment is defined as not being caused by a person’s physical or mental incapacity or circumstances that the person did not control. If a person is in jail, that is not considered voluntary unemployment or underemployment unless the person is serving a sentence for refusing to pay child support.
If the court finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, they will determine required child support payments based on the parent’s employment and earnings potential, as evidenced by their work history, their qualifications, and the average income for the employment position they most recently held.
Another situation in which the court will become involved in determining child support is if a parent is refusing to participate in child support hearings or provide adequate financial information in order to calculate child support. In this case, the court will calculate an estimate of the parent’s income, referred to as “imputing income.” The court will assume any sort of unknown income to be “equivalent to the median income of year-round full-time workers,” using information from the U.S. Census Bureau. A parent’s income will also be imputed if the parent is missing.
The following additional considerations may result in court adjustments to child support calculations:
Any extraordinary medical, dental, educational, or legal expenses.
If a child has an independent income.
Seasonal variations in parental income or expenses.
The age of the child(ren).
Any special needs of the child(ren).
If one parent refuses to be involved in the child’s life.
If the agreed-upon custody arrangement results in the child spending a significantly greater amount of time with one parent than the other (in cases where the child is required to spend significant time with both parents, child support will be calculated based on the percentage of time the child spends with each parent).
If one parent stops honoring the agreed-upon custody arrangement.
Once the court has determined the child support responsibilities, the court may order one parent to pay child support retroactively, dating back to the beginning of the time when the two parents no longer resided together in the same home with the child.
Can child support be changed once it is determined by the court?
There are several circumstances in which child support requirements can change after an initial court determination. The first and most obvious is when a child turns 18 and becomes a legal adult. Child support can continue past a child’s 18th birthday if they remain a dependent due to mental or physical incapacity, or if they turn 18 prior to graduating high school, in which case they will remain a dependent until they graduate (provided they graduate before they turn 19).
Child support requirements can also change if the change is determined by a court to be in the best interest of the child, or if there is a substantial change in circumstances, similar to the substantial change in circumstances required for a change in alimony payment requirements. Other situations in which child support can change include if a child becomes emancipated from their parents, gets married, joins the armed services, or dies.
What are other important things to know about child support?
Child support may not look like a direct cash transfer from one parent to the other. Indirect child support can include mortgage payments on the home where the child lives, paying insurance costs or health expenses, etc. Florida law states that if a child’s health insurance is “reasonable in cost,” which it defines as not greater than 5% of a parent’s gross income, health insurance must be provided as part of child support. Beyond health insurance, if a parent pays for a child’s health-related costs, those costs will be deducted from their child support obligation.
If you pay childcare costs because of time spent at work, searching for a job, or pursuing education, those costs will also be deducted from your child support obligation.
The court may require anyone responsible for paying child support to hold a life insurance policy to ensure support would continue if they passed away.
Property Division: who gets what?
If the two spouses agree on how to divide their property, Florida will generally accept the agreed-upon property division. But, if there is disagreement, the court will become involved, and in this situation, it will be helpful to understand what is considered marital property and therefore considered eligible to be divided between two divorcing spouses.
Marital vs. non-marital property
Marital property is defined as “assets acquired and liabilities incurred during the marriage,” by both spouses together or by each spouse individually (Florida Bar Association: Division of Assets and Debts). Examples of assets include cars, houses, retirement benefits, business interests, cash, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, and personal property. Examples of liabilities include mortgages, car loans, credit card accounts with balances, and any money owed to third parties. Other, less tangible examples of marital property can extend to (FL §61.075):
The amount of mortgage debt that was paid off during the marriage, if mortgage payments were made out of marital funds.
Any gifts given during the marriage.
All vested and nonvested funds in “retirement, pension, profit-sharing, annuity, deferred compensation, and insurance plans.” Florida law has additional provisions for the division of retirement plans if one spouse served in the armed forces for at least ten years (and if the marriage lasted at least ten years).
Any increase in value of nonmarital property.
Nonmarital property is defined as “assets acquired and liabilities incurred prior to the marriage.” It also extends to any property that was acquired by one spouse separate from the other, such as if one spouse received money from a will. If one spouse owned a rental property before the marriage and collected rent on that property, that rent money isn’t considered marital property unless it was used as marital income, such as if it contributed to paying the mortgage on the marital home.
If one spouse can prove that a debt was formed by the other spouse forging their signature (like if one spouse took out a loan in the other spouse’s name without their knowledge or consent), those debts will not be considered marital property.
How will the court divide marital property?
Florida law states that the court “must begin with the premise that the distribution [of property] should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors” (FL §61.075). It defines relevant factors as:
Contributions to the marriage, including contributions as a homemaker and contributions to the care and education of any children.
Both spouses’ economic circumstances.
How long the marriage lasted.
Any interruptions the marriage caused to one spouse’s career or education.
Any contributions one spouse made towards furthering the career or education of the other spouse.
Any unequal desire of an asset, i.e. if one spouse has a greater interest in a shared business.
How much each spouse contributed to the accumulation of income or debts.
If there are children involved, if it would be in the children’s best interest to remain in the marital home, which would necessitate one spouse keeping the marital home as opposed to both spouses selling it and splitting the proceeds. There are other considerations the court considers regarding the marital home specifically:
If alimony or child support payments are being paid to the spouse remaining in the home and if those payments will be used to cover the home’s expenses.
The value of the home.
Any tax deductions associated with the home’s possession or use, and any capital gains tax resulting from the sale of the home.
If one spouse has intentionally destroyed or depleted assets that would otherwise be included in the property division process, as long as such destruction happened within the two years before the divorce petition’s filing, or after the petition has been filed. Essentially, if one spouse has intentionally reduced their property’s value in anticipation of it potentially being divided in a divorce proceeding, the court will not look kindly on such behavior.
The process of dividing property does not need to account for alimony, which is an entirely separate process (except for considerations relating to the marital home, see above). If it makes more sense, the court can choose not to divide property at all, but to grant all property to one spouse and then require that spouse to pay a lump sum or a series of payment installments, which may require interest, to the other spouse to compensate for the property.
What about a prenuptial agreement?
If a premarital or prenuptial agreement (commonly referred to as a “prenup”) exists, it will be enforced unless a spouse can prove that the agreement was not entered into voluntarily. The agreement is also not considered valid if it can be proven that one spouse did not disclose the full details of their property, assets, liabilities, and obligations when the agreement was created and signed. The premarital agreement may include details on what is and is not considered marital property, which would supersede any of Florida law’s definitions of marital property listed above if the agreement is found to be valid.
After going through a divorce, some aspects of your annual taxes may change (Florida Bar Association: Tax Considerations). A divorce will likely impact the child dependency deduction if you have children. You will also need to account for the taxability or deductibility of any child support and/or alimony payments, if applicable. Transfer of property may result in changes to your expected property tax. We recommend working with an accountant as well as a lawyer to thoroughly understand the tax ramifications of your divorce and ensure that no mistakes are made throughout the process.
What are temporary orders?
Temporary orders are temporary solutions to problems that need to be addressed before the rest of the divorce proceedings are legally settled (Custody XChange Florida: Orders). As we’ve mentioned, a divorce case in Florida will take three weeks at a minimum, but the proceedings almost always take much longer. Temporary orders are legal judgments that typically address some sort of family matter while the divorce is in progress. These issues can include:
Creating a temporary plan for child support payments and parental responsibility.
Allowing one spouse to temporarily relocate more than 50 miles away, which is typically not allowed during divorce proceedings.
Temporarily barring one parent from leaving the state with a shared child.
Temporary protections against domestic violence, which may include barring one spouse from unsupervised contact with the other spouse and any children.
Either spouse can request a temporary order in a divorce proceeding. Temporary orders can also be requested by a guardian ad litem (more on guardians ad litem in our Child Custody in Florida article). It is up to the judge to grant or deny temporary orders, though both spouses can argue their case in a hearing, which will be scheduled more quickly than regular divorce hearings.
If the judge grants a temporary order, the judge will also specify on what date the order expires. Temporary orders can be extended under certain circumstances. If a final divorce or custody judgment is settled before the temporary order expires, it will supersede the order.
Can I get my former name back?
Yes, if you request it. Such a request is usually included in the divorce filing, or, if you weren’t the one who filed the original divorce petition, you can request restoration of your former name in the response you file to your spouse’s divorce petition. The judge will grant you your former name as part of the final divorce hearing (Florida Bar Association: Restoration of Former Name).
Other useful resources
Divorce can be tricky and complicated, so it helps to be aware of all the resources at your disposal. Here are a few resources people usually find helpful.
Florida Family Law Attorneys
If you have a family attorney, you likely can’t use that same attorney in your divorce case because they have previously represented you and your spouse as a unit and therefore have a conflict of interest (Florida Bar Association: Where to Get Legal Help). You can find a new attorney using The Florida Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service.
A comprehensive list of all certified mediators currently practicing in Florida is available at the Florida Dispute Resolution Center Mediator System.
Free Legal Aid Societies
Legal aid societies provide legal help to people who can’t afford lawyers. They also typically publish useful resources that are accessible to everyone, regardless of income level. We found these societies especially useful:
Florida Law Help, where once you answer a few simple questions, you are connected with Florida legal resources relevant to your specific case.
MyFloridaCounty.com, for all legal aid related to child support.
Florida Justice Institute, which provides legal aid specifically intended to support people experiencing homelessness or poverty, people with disabilities, people in the criminal justice system, and people impacted by other civil rights issues.
Bay Area Legal Services, for legal aid in the Tampa Bay area.
Brevard County Legal Aid, Inc., for legal aid in Brevard County.
Legal Aid Society of Collier County, Inc., for legal aid in Collier County.
Heart of Florida Legal Aid Society, Inc., for legal aid in Hardee, Highlands, and Polk counties.
Gulfcoast Legal Services, for legal aid in Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties.
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, for legal aid in the city of Jacksonville.
Lee County Legal Aid Society, Inc., for legal aid in Lee County.
Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., for legal aid in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, Inc., for legal aid in Orange County.
Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, for legal aid in Palm Beach County.
Community Law Program, for legal aid in Pinellas County.
Seminole County Bar Association Legal Aid Society, for legal aid in Seminole County.
Three Rivers Legal Services, for legal aid within the Gainesville, Jacksonville, and Lake City areas.
Legal Services of North Florida, for legal aid in the cities of Fort Walton, Panama City, Pensacola, Quincy, and Tallahassee.
Florida Rural Legal Services, which provides legal aid for seasonal or migrant farmworkers in the following counties: Hardee, Highlands, Polk, Charlotte, Desoto, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Indian River, St. Lucie, and Palm Beach.
The best place to search for books is your local library. Libraries often have several books about divorce, and you can check them out for free.
If your library doesn’t have anything useful, or you want to order and read books in the privacy of your home, we recommend these books:
Florida Divorce Handbook by Gerald B. Keane (available at Amazon).
Any of the Nolo books about divorce
Florida State Statutes
All Florida state statutes, related to divorce or otherwise, are accessible to the public and are quite readable, even for someone who has no prior law experience or education. They can be a helpful resource for anyone navigating a divorce. The section of Florida law related to divorce begins in Chapter 61: Dissolution of Marriage.
The Florida court system provides helpful links and resources on divorce to the public, including:
Family Law General Information for Self-Represented Litigants, which you should read if you are not planning on hiring a lawyer. Even if you do have a lawyer, this document can still be helpful as it breaks down many of the complicated legal terms you’ll likely hear in court.
Check out our other articles and guides for additional information, such as:
If you have more questions, it may be wise to chat with a lawyer. JustAnswer is an online service that allows you to connect with attorneys and have quick conversations to get your questions answered, as opposed to the expense and hassle of booking time with a lawyer. You can receive quick answers to your questions from experienced lawyers who know family law inside and out, and you won’t enter any obligations or commitments to have them represent you in court.
Local Community Groups
Sometimes, the best support you can find is outside of the legal system entirely. Divorce is not just complicated legally, it is complicated emotionally, and such an experience can take a serious toll on you. Local community support groups, such as those hosted through a church or a community organization, can be an excellent resource. You can connect with other people with similar experiences, receive emotional support, and find guidance on navigating the divorce process.
Florida Attorney Blogs
FloridaDivorce.com provides an extensive list of blogs on all kinds of divorce-related topics. McMichen, Cinami, & Demps have a series of blogs with a special focus on child support and child custody questions, along with some related to property division and financial assets. Florida Divorce Law Group’s blogs emphasize the more nitty-gritty details of divorce proceedings, such as the timeline and how to financially prepare for a divorce.
OurFamilyWizard is a simple but capable app that helps divorced parents work together for the good of their kids. It helps with messaging, scheduling, note-taking and record-keeping, expense tracking, and more.
If parents do need to return to court, either to modify a child custody order or to resolve a dispute, the data captured in OurFamilyWizard will help resolve disagreements about who said what, who did what, etc.
We tested out OurFamilyWizard and wrote up a review to help you decide if it will be helpful for you.