If you have made the very difficult decision to end your marriage and seek a divorce, you probably have questions about the divorce process. You might be confused about what you have to do to file for divorce, what happens once you file, and what you can expect as the case progresses.
A dissolution of marriage action is typically divided into a number of phases, and each phase is a process that you must work through to get to the end result—a divorce. The phases may overlap, or you may skip one entirely but, but this post provides a general roadmap to help you understand what to expect in the first phase.
Phase 1: Filing your case. To initiate a divorce, you have to file certain “pleadings” with the court. A “pleading” is a document that alerts the court to what type of action you are filing, the facts of the case, what relief you are seeking, and provides some basic background information about you, your spouse and your children.
The first pleading that is filed in a divorce action is a petition for dissolution of marriage. Along with the petition, there are other documents that you must file when you initiate a case for the dissolution of marriage. The Supreme Court of Florida has developed a website that has approved family law forms that you can download and use in your case, if you chose to represent yourself. Of course, if you have hired an attorney to file your divorce case, he or she will handle filing of all the necessary documents to initiate your divorce.
“Relief” Is what you asked the court to provide to you through the divorce process. Some of the things you may request include, but are not limited to:
- How you would like your property to be divided.
- Whether you would like to remain living in your home.
- How you and your spouse will divide time with your children.
- How you will make decisions about your children.
- The child support that you are seeking.
- An award of alimony or spousal support.
When you file for divorce, you must decide in which county you will file the case. You and your spouse can agree to file the petition in a county other than the one in which you live. For example, if both are you and your spouse are well-known in your community, you may decide to file the case in another county to keep the details of your divorce private. If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement on where to file then you will be restricted to filing the case in the county where you and your spouse last resided as married individuals—or the county where your spouse currently lives (if you are initiating the divorce action).
There are fees associated with filing a dissolution of marriage action and the fees may differ from one county to the next. Check with your local clerk to determine what it will cost to file a divorce case in your county.
Once you file a divorce case, you have to provide your spouse with all of the documents that you have filed—a process called “service.” Often, a party may accept service of process to avoid the time and expense for you to formally serve him or her. However, if they have not voluntarily accepted service, you can serve your spouse by having a process server or sheriff’s deputy locate your spouse and provide him or her with a copy of the documents that you have filed.
If you do not know where your spouse is residing, you will need to complete an Affidavit of Diligent Search and Inquiry. In the affidavit, you must disclose the last known address of your spouse and specify the steps you have taken to locate your spouse. The affidavit includes a suggested checklist of places that you may contact to locate an address for your spouse: the U.S. Post Office, your spouse’s last known employment address, the name and addresses of relatives of the spouse, law enforcement arrest and/or criminal records for your spouse, and regulatory agencies for professional occupational licensing of which your spouse may be a member. You are not required to contact every place in the affidavit but the court must believe that you have made a very serious effort to locate an address for your spouse. If you still cannot determine where your spouse is currently living, you may be able to serve your spouse with the petition for dissolution of marriage by constructive service, or service by publication. This is a type of service on an individual when that person cannot be personally located and served. The notice of action that you have filed is published for a specified period of time, and if after the specified deadline your spouse fails to file a response to your action, you may request the court to enter it default against your spouse at perceived without his or her participation.
If you are unable to locate your spouse, constructive service does not result in personal service on your spouse, and personal service is required before a court can order financial relief, including equitable distribution, alimony, child support, or attorney fees. If you are unable to get personal service on your spouse, you can request the court give you a divorce and retain jurisdiction so that if one day you locate your spouse, you may go back to court and ask the court to enter an order on the financial issues that were previously reserved. Even though you may be unable to get an award on financial matters, the good news is that with constructive service the court can enter an order divorcing you and your spouse, and if you have children, the court can enter a parenting plan including parental responsibility and time sharing, provided you have established a jurisdictional basis for the Court to hear issues relating to the children.
At Nicole L. Goetz, P.L. we have the knowledge and experience to guide you through the divorce process from start to finish, from an evaluation of your situation to the litigation and appeal of your case, if necessary. If you have questions, would like to receive more information, or need an attorney to assist you during this difficult and often complicated process, please call our office in Naples, Florida to schedule a confidential consultation with our attorneys.
The information provided on law and legal topics is designed for general information only and does not constitute nor should it be considered legal advice. It is not a substitute nor should it be considered a substitute for legal advice from a qualified attorney knowledgeable about your specific factual situation.