Starting the process.  In order to get divorced, a party must file a lawsuit.  The document that begins the process is called a petition for dissolution.

Jurisdiction: In order to obtain a divorce in Florida, one of the parties to the divorce (husband or wife) must have been a resident of Florida for at least 6 months prior to the date of filing the petition for dissolution.  Otherwise, the judge will dismiss the petition for dissolution.  In addition, the court cannot dissolve the marriage unless it is “irretrievably broken.”

Next Step.  After the petition for dissolution is filed, it must be served on the other party.  After it is served, the other party will have 20 days to file and serve a response.

Discovery.  After the lawsuit is filed, both parties may engage in what is called discovery, which is the process of obtaining information from each other.

Mediation.  Before the parties are permitted to go to trial, they must attend mediation.  At mediation an impartial third party will attempt to assist the parties in reaching a settlement as to all or some of the issues.  If there is any issue which the parties cannot resolve at mediation, the judge will decide the issue at trial.  If the parties are able to resolve all issues at mediation, the judge will generally enter a final judgment incorporating the written mediated agreement, and no trial will be necessary.

Trial.  Generally, after both parties have completed discovery and mediation, the case will go to trial.  Divorce cases are heard and decided by a judge, not a jury.  Like any other judicial proceeding, divorce trials are open to the public.

Issues Addressed at Trial.  At trial, the judge will address the issues of equitable distribution (the division of assets and liabilities), alimony, and if minor children are involved, timesharing (custody) and child support.

The Final Judgment.  After the judge has considered the evidence, he or she will issue a written document known as the “final judgment.”  Depending on the county in which your case is being heard, the judge may not issue the final judgment for several months after the trial has ended.   The final judgment will reflect the judge’s decision with respect to the issues presented at trial.