One: Requirements for Florida Divorces If you or your spouse has decided to file for divorce in Florida, at least one of you must be a resident of the state or a member of an armed force stationed in the state. If both you and your spouse agree that the "marriage is irretrievably broken," and there should be a divorce, you can agree in writing to end the marriage. If one of you denies that the marriage is broken beyond repair or you have a child, the court has the authority to order counseling with a marriage counselor, priest or rabbi, or psychologist for up to three months. Although it is rare that the court orders counseling. Two: How to Begin the Process of Divorce for Florida Residents Also called a "dissolution" of the marriage, Florida divorces legally begin when you or your spouse files a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage" with the local circuit court. After the other spouse is served with the summons and paperwork the spouse has 20 days to respond. If both you and your spouse agree on how to divide property and debt the divorce can be finalized without a trial. If you have minor children the parties also must agree on child-support, time-sharing and a Parenting Plan. The agreement and Parenting Plan must be in writing and signed by both parties. The Court must approve the Parenting Plan. If the parties cannot agree, the court will assign a time for a hearing. Three: Marital Assets Any assets and debts acquired during the marriage are referred to as "marital assets," and will be divided "equitably," or fairly, upon divorce. Any assets you had prior to the marriage may be considered "non-marital assets" if they were kept separated from property acquired during the marriage. You and your spouse can each retain your non-marital assets. Note that sometimes non-marital assets can have a marital component if they were co-mingled and/or used as collateral in the marriage. Four: Dividing of Marital Property Judges will divide assets equally, unless there is a basis for unequal distribution. The judge will consider both you and your spouse's economic circumstances and the contributions each of you made to the marriage (including care for children and your marital home). If either you or your spouse wants to keep your marital home to live in with a child from the marriage, that may also be a factor for unequal distribution. Five: Alimony Alimony is an extension of the obligation for spouses to support each other financially during the marriage. Under divorce laws in Florida, a court can order alimony based on factors under Florida Statutes. Factors the courts will look at include: the standard of living during the marriage; the length of the marriage; and the age, physical condition and emotional condition of each spouse; the financial resources of each party; the earning capacities, educational levels and employability of the parties; the contribution of each party to the marriage; the responsibilities each party will have with regard to any minor children; the tax treatment and consequences of any alimony award; all sources of income available to each party; and any other factor to do equity and justice between the parties. Six: Primary Residence If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on the primary residence of the child, the court will make a decision based on what is in the "best interests" of the child. Unless there is a reason that it would be detrimental to your child's upbringing, the court will usually grant shared responsibility. Sometimes the court will give one parent responsibility over specific aspects of a child's welfare, such as primary residence, education or medical care. The court will consider the moral fitness of you and your spouse as parents, your abilities to provide for the child, the mental and physical health of the parents, the home, school and community record of the child, and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment among several other factors. Seven: Child Support Divorce laws in Florida include child support guidelines that judges use to figure out the support needed for a child and how much each parent has to pay. The court looks at both parents' incomes and the child's health and child care costs. Florida's standard needs table lists support amounts based on the child's age and the parents income. Eight: Documents You Will Need The court will need to know about all of your assets in order to divide them. Both parties are required to file financial affidavits listing all income, assets and liabilities. Make copies of tax returns, bank statements, mortgage documents and any other financial information that you have access to. This will save you time and money down the road. You should also take inventory of your major household and family possessions. A detailed household budget will help your lawyer as well as the court determine how much temporary support can be paid. Nine: Debts Any debt incurred before the marriage, such as educational debt, is not considered while dividing debts. Like assets, the debts will be divided equitably. If you have a mortgage, the court may order both of you to split the debt; if one spouse stays in the home, the mortgage may be restructured to make that spouse the sole owner and borrower. Note that educational debt incurred during the marriage is marital! Ten: Taxes It is important to think about how a divorce, for Florida residents, will change your taxes. Property transfers, taxability of alimony payments and dependency deductions for children may all affect your tax filing status. Working with an accountant along with your lawyer will help you avoid making mistakes you may not be able to fix after the divorce.