What are the legal differences between divorce and separation in Florida?
Also -- do both parties need to sign papers to get divorced or become separated? Or can my wife sign the papers without my consent or approval?
Family Law Attorney
Please do not consider the following answer as direct specific legal advice to you, since I do not have the specific facts to your situation and we do not have an attorney/client relationship. You should always seek the in-person advice of an attorney for a complete and proper legal consultation. My answer should be considered to be general information to your question.
In Florida there is no such thing as a "legal separation". There is only divorce. The divorce is actually called a "dissolution of marriage". This means that a married couple can separate from each other physically without the need for any document or court order.
In Florida, however, there is a statute which allows a wife or a husband to ask from the other "separate maintenance". This means that, for instance, a wife could separate physically from the husband and go to live in another residence, and could file a suit for "separate maintenance," requesting the Court to order the husband to pay her some type of support or alimony without a divorce (dissolution of marriage), and without dividing the couple's properties and debts of the marriage.
Sometimes, a couple may decide to draft an sign, with the consent of both, a Marital Settlement Agreement. This is a written contract which both would sign before a notary and is usually drafted by an attorney, and which includes all issues between them (division of their mutual debts, properties, definitions of alimony, etc.). This document can be filed with the proper court and the parties can ask the Court to "adopt it" as part of the Court's divorce decree (in Florida: "Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage"). If the Court adopts the document, then it becomes part of the divorce. However, if the couple decides only to draft the agreement BUT not present it to the Court for approval through a final judgment of dissolution of marriage, then it acts as a sort of deliation of the parties' rights and responsibilities after their separation (similar to a pre-nuptial agreement which would have been prepared before they married) but it is not a "legal separation".
As to your second question, if one of you want to divorce in Florida (we spoke about that "legal separation" already). It can be either by: 1) mutual consent (in this type both would have to sign a Marital Settlement Agreement and submit it to the Court for approval as I explained before) or, 2) contested (in this second type, if you or your wife cannot come to an agreement and/or either one does not want to sign a Marital Settlement Agreement, there is a legal process to follow in Court to have a judge decide all of the issues between you and enter a judgment of dissolution of marriage divorcing both of you without the need for the consent or signature of your wife or yourself).
Hope the answer helped!
Alejandro R. Lopez, Esq.
Law Office of Alejandro R. Lopez, P.A.
Licensed to practice in Florida only
Divorce / Separation Lawyer
Florida does not have legal separation, we only have dissolution of marriage. An uncontested divorce is one in which the parties have agreed to the separation of their property, assets, liabilities, child support, if any. An uncontested divorce can also mean that the other party will not fight or contest the divorce.
Florida, however does recognize separation agreements. For example, If you and your spouse decided to separate but for some reason did not wish to file for divorce, you can enter into a post-nuptial agreement. This is basically an agreement between two married people outlining property, asset, liabilities, and child support obligations. In the event of a divorce in the future, Florida will recognize this post-nuptial and/or separation agreements as valid and will enforce it.
While Florida is a no-fault state, which means that there doesn't have to be a reason for the divorce, your Wife cannot obtain a divorce without notifying you. This means that she either must serve you personally with divorce papers, or you can sign a paper saying that you accept service of the papers without the necessity of a formal service. Service may also be done through publication, if your wife states that she does not know your whereabouts or if she doesn't know whether or not you still reside in Florida.