Florida, like all others states, followed California's lead in 1969 and embraced a no-fault system for divorce. This means that you don't have to prove that the marriage was broken due to cruelty, desertion, adultery, lack of support or any other grounds that you would have to provide under a fault system. In fact, in many cases, testimony or evidence about misconduct in the marriage is refused by the court in Florida divorce cases.
What You Need to Divorce
Florida does have some requirements you need to meet in order to get a divorce, although none of them have anything to do with fault.
- One spouse has to have been a legal resident of Florida for at least 180 days.
- If child custody is a part of the case, those children have to have lived in Florida for at least six months.
- At least 90 days must pass from the date either spouse was served with divorce papers before a final divorce is granted.
- One or both of the spouses have to state the marriage is irretrievably broken.
“Irretrievably Broken” Marriage
Under the no-fault system, a divorce is granted because your marriage is “irretrievably broken”, which means it cannot be salvaged. While only one person has to state this in the petition for divorce, Florida law dictates that a court will consider all the factors–including reconciliation–if one party denies the marriage is broken and provides evidence of that fact.
Knowing your spouse can contest the state of the marriage can be upsetting, but it is often not a factor. The court can suggest counseling but not order it, for example, and the court will usually agree with one spouse saying the marriage can't be saved. If you feel your spouse will argue about the state of your marriage, communicate those concerns to your divorce lawyer.
Although Florida is a no-fault state when it comes to the reason for receiving the divorce and for determining marital issues such as child custody, the economic fault of either spouse may be considered as part of the property division process. Economic fault means a spouse has wasted marital assets or incurred marital debt knowing the divorce is coming. This is usually only a factor in extreme cases, where someone has hidden or wasted assets on purpose. If, for example, your spouse sold the family home in Fernandina Beach for $2 to someone else to prevent you from receiving it or any funds from its sale, they are guilty of having economic fault.
Essentially, when you are about to or have filed for divorce, you should never waste marital assets simply to anger your spouse or because you don't want them to have them. You will be penalized for wasting or misusing assets when it comes to the property division part of your divorce later. Avoid making large, unnecessary purchases during this time or selling major assets, even if the price is fair, without the express, written consent of your spouse and the advice of your attorney.
Other Florida Divorce Issues
Under the old fault-based systems, spouses would receive child and spousal support, assets and parental visitation and responsibilities based on how severe the other spouse's mistakes leading up to the divorce were. This may be the impression you've gotten from watching older court movies and dramas, in which divorcing couples would take part in trials that largely consisted of them making accusations of wrongdoing against each other in order to get the kids or the family home.
Today, this fault standard no longer applies, and the assets of the marriage are divided in a way that balances both spouses' interests. Spousal and child support are calculated and awarded based on the incomes involved and other relevant factors–such as the receiver's medical needs and costs–and decisions regarding the children are made by considering what the court deems in their best interests. None of these issues are impacted by things you or your spouse did wrong outside of extreme instances, such as child abuse or neglect, which impacts custody decisions.
Don't Let Fault Drag Out Your Divorce
While your spouse's mistakes are naturally a part of the divorce process for you, letting that anger and emotion come into the legal process can create disagreements that bog down the process. The better you are able to come to agreements with your spouse, the faster and more smoothly the divorce process will go.
In many divorces, the most important issues are property and debt division, spousal support, child support, and child visitation and custody. If you are not able to come to agreements with your spouse on your own, you could end up facing a trial, and that will make the experience more stressful and more costly. In addition, when you and your spouse are unable to agree on some issues, the court may have to decide those issues for you. Naturally, people are usually less satisfied by the outcome when a major issue is decided by a judge instead of them.
Your divorce lawyer will work with you to help you reach agreements on the major issues with your spouse so you don't have to have a judge make those big life choices for you. While your final agreement does need to be approved and entered by the court to be legal and enforceable, you and your spouse can come to the agreement without the court interfering.
Taking the Next Step
When you feel you are ready to file for divorce or will be soon, you should contact a divorce attorney for assistance. Your attorney will review your case, give you a realistic idea of how it is likely to play out, answer your questions, and help you with all the legal procedures and requirements involved. Since the decisions you make during divorce will have an impact on your finances and family life for years to come, it's important to have experienced legal counsel on your side for the entire process.