In order to end a marriage, a person must obtain a final judgment from a circuit court dissolving the marriage. In that judgment, all property, support and child-related issues ordinarily will be determined. To obtain that judgment a person must file a petition to start a lawsuit, legally serve (notice) his or her spouse, provide and obtain financial information to and from his or her spouse, if children are involved, take a class, and either have an agreement prepared and brought to the court at an appropriately noticed final hearing or have a trial before a judicial officer at which evidence will be taken to allow the judicial officer to make decisions. A person is not required to have a lawyer to obtain a divorce. However, because this is a legal process with rules and procedures to be followed, it is advisable to obtain legal counsel.
To obtain a divorce, there must be a legally acceptable reason. There are two legally acceptable reasons in Florida. One is that one party has been declared legally incompetent for a period in excess of three years. The other is the more common basis - that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." That means that there is nothing that the court can do (such as sending the couple to counseling) to induce the couple to reconcile. If there are children, and a person answers a petition for dissolution of marriage by denying that the marriage is irretrievably broken, then the court may order the parties to counseling and may delay the proceedings for up to three months to encourage and/or permit the parties an opportunity to reconcile.
Once a petition for dissolution of marriage is filed, it must be legally served upon the other party. That party must then file a written answer with the court. Forms for dissolution of marriage proceedings are available, and many courts have self-help units to assist people without lawyers in finding those forms.
There are specialized rules for procedure dealing with family courts, which are available at public libraries and law schools. Those rules require each party to provide the other with financial information within a certain number of days of the beginning of a case. Except in cases involving domestic violence, most courts will also require all couples to attend mediation sessions - which are settlement
conferences with the assistance of a trained person who try to help couples achieve a settlement between themselves. If children are involved, all parties will be required to attend parenting classes, details of which are provided when the divorce action is filed. Some courts require the child to attend special classes as well.
Divorce proceedings are public proceedings, and the files are available at the courthouse for public review. Under certain limited circumstances, portions of the file may be sealed by order of the court.
While a divorce is pending, a trial judge may enter orders dealing with support, possession or maintenance of any individual asset, where the child or children will live, the time the child or children will spend with each parent, and attorney's fees and costs.