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The official term for divorce in Florida is “Dissolution of Marriage." Florida is one of the many states that have abolished fault as a ground for divorce. Either spouse can file a dissolution of marriage. All that has to be proven is that the marriage exists, one party has been a Florida resident for six months or more, and the marriage is irretrievably broken.

The dissolution process begins with a petition for dissolution of marriage, filed in the circuit court by either the husband or wife, which states that the marriage is irretrievably broken and asks the court to award him/her certain things in the divorce. The petition for dissolution of marriage is then served upon the other spouse. That party must file an Answer within 20 calendar days after being served with the initial petition. The Answer needs to either admit or deny the allegations contained in the petition. The spouse who is served with the initial petition for dissolution can also file his or her own counter-petition for dissolution of marriage. In the counter-petition, he or she can raise any matters that he or she wants the court to consider.

The Florida Supreme Court Rules governing divorce require that each party disclose certain financial documents to the other. The parties must also complete and file a sworn financial affidavit to the other party. The parties can waive the production of certain financial documentation; however, the financial affidavits must be filed in all cases. The financial affidavit is a sworn statement that discloses your income, expenses, assets and liabilities. Failure to provide this information can result in the court dismissing the case or not considering that party’s request.

Some couples can agree on dividing their property, child custody, and other issues soon after the original petition is filed (sometimes even before). A written agreement, called a marital settlement agreement, is signed by both parties and presented to the court. Such cases are termed “uncontested” cases, and a divorce can become final in a matter of weeks.

Some couples cannot agree on anything, or can agree on some issues but not all, and a trial is required. At trial, each side presents evidence and testimony of the parties and any witnesses or professionals, such as accountants, is taken. It is important to note that at trial, the judge makes the final decision on all contested issues. The judge’s decision is the least likely to win favor with either party, as the judge has an obligation to do what he or she thinks is just and appropriate in order to divide your assets, debts, and to award timesharing with your child(ren), if any. The equitable distribution process is designed to make the divorce as fair as possible to both husband and wife, which usually means compromises by both partners. Most judges advise the parties to try to reach a settlement because the judge will make decisions that neither may like.

It is sometimes unrealistic to expect both partners to be “happy” with their divorce. The experience can be emotionally devastating. The financial upheaval of supporting two households instead of one may cause hardship for the entire family. The parties, however, can take steps to make the process easier for themselves and their children. Those steps include putting personal differences aside to contemplate equitable distribution of assets and considering the best interests of your children.

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