It starts as a thought – where would I even start for filing for divorce? Once those thoughts become more common and the reality that divorce could happen sets in, it is important for you to understand where to start. Although everyone’s case is different, here are 5 steps you can take to start the divorce process.
Step one: Get the paperwork – The Florida Supreme Court provides all of the forms to start the divorce process for a Dissolution of Marriage (aka Divorce) case online. You can either download them and/or print them. You can access all of the forms here. You should then work to fill out all of the paperwork completely.
Step two: Know your requirements – Divorce varies from state to state and it is quite possible that your friend from Nebraska had a very different divorce than you will in Florida. Laws are different. The process is different. How to start the divorce process is different.
Review a Parenting Plan form. If you have children with the other person and those children are under 18 or disabled, you should review a parenting plan form to start thinking about parental responsibility, extracurricular activities, and medical expenses. While many parents think that they know how to divide time, the reality of splitting holidays and birthdays and splitting extracurricular activities are concepts not yet thought about. Think about whether you want to alternate holidays, split holidays, or some other arrangement.
Decide if you want to seek alimony. In your divorce, when you file your original paperwork and start the divorce process is the time to seek alimony if you would like to request it. You will not be able to seek it at a later date. Different states have different rules on whether you will be able to claim alimony. The rule of thumb in Florida is that any marriage shorter than seven years is a short-term marriage and most likely will not qualify for alimony; any marriage longer than fifteen years is a long term marriage and most likely will qualify for alimony; and any marriage longer than seven years but shorter than fifteen years is in a grey area. Grey area marriages will need to identify what kind of alimony they need and why.
Step three: Get your supporting documents – This includes a copy of the deed to your home, a current mortgage statement, the registration or title for the cars, the last car loan statement, bank statements, credit card statements, and any other important document that addresses financial things (IRA statements, 529 Plans, etc). Having these documents to start the divorce process will help filling out the paperwork easier.
Create a list of your assets. Since you’ve collected your paperwork above, you should be able to create a list of things that you own. Anything obtained during the course of the marriage belongs to the pot of marital assets and will need to be divided. Make sure to list all of your assets, as well as the value of each item.
Create a list of your debts. Since you’ve collected your paperwork above, you should be able to create a list of debts that you owe. Most debt incurred during the course of the marriage belongs to the pot of marital debt and will need to be divided. Make sure to list all of your debts, as well as the balance of each debt.
Create a proposal as to how these items will be split. In most divorce cases, a judge will seek to divide things equally. If you believe that there should be an unequal split, you should consider speaking with an experienced family law attorney to discuss your options.
Step four: Gather the filing fee – The filing fee for divorce in Florida is $418.00. Sometimes this will be the most difficult part of starting your divorce case and filing your paperwork. In the state of Florida, filing for divorce costs $397.50, plus $10.50 to record the Final Judgment of divorce, plus $10.00 for a summons to serve your spouse to get the clock started on their requirement to file a response to your paperwork.
Step five: File your paperwork – The easiest way to file paperwork without an attorney is to walk into your civil clerk of court’s office during normal business hours to file your divorce paperwork and pay your fee. It will take about thirty minutes to file your case, so try to avoid peak busy times like lunch hours or right before the office closes. You should have a debit card or cash available to pay the filing fee. Once your paperwork is filed with the court, you completed all the steps to start the divorce process.
Best practice tip: You should have the original paperwork AND two copies of the entire set. The original paperwork will be kept by the clerk and filed in your court file. The first copy is for your records. The clerk can stamp your set of copies so you know the date they were filed. The second copy will be for your spouse. This is the set that you will need to provide to the sheriff or a private process server in order to serve it on your spouse. Until your spouse receives the paperwork from the sheriff or a private process server, their clock to start responding has not started. Once they are served, they will have twenty days to respond to your paperwork.
Although this is a good explanation on how to start a case, every case is different. It may benefit you to seek a consultation from an experienced divorce attorney to understand your particular situation, your rights, and your options. For more information from Feher Law, feel free to review our blog here, which also includes an article about our practice, and free family law resources for your case.