Florida law creates two ways to dissolve your marriage: You can choose a simplified divorce or a regular divorce. In Fort Myers, both types proceed through the Lee County Clerk of the Court on Monroe Street. Which type you choose for your divorce depends on whether you have children or if you and your spouse agree on how to divide your marital property.
Basics of Florida Divorce
Florida is a no-fault divorce state. That means you don’t have to provide proof that your spouse did something wrong to cause the divorce. To proceed with dissolving the marriage, you must simply be willing to admit it's irretrievably broken, and you or your spouse lived in Florida for six months prior to the filing date. You must also prove you’re actually married. When it comes to marital property, Florida requires that assets be distributed equitably, but fairly. Property includes personal possessions, real estate holdings, investments, income and other assets. It also includes all outstanding debts.
Florida’s simplified divorce requires that both parties agree about wanting a divorce and they petition the court together to dissolve their marriage. You must meet the residency requirements, show you’re married and agree the marriage is irretrievably broken. However, you cannot proceed with a simple divorce if you have minor or dependent children, or the wife is pregnant.
If you meet the standards for a simple divorce, you and your spouse complete a financial declaration, or affidavit, and an agreement settling your property issues. You’ll both be required to appear at the final divorce hearing. Couples often accomplish a simplified divorce without an attorney. A checklist for all the appropriate forms and procedures is available at the court clerk's office or on the clerk’s website. Read the instructions carefully since some of the forms require signatures to be notarized.
If you have a minor child or you and your spouse can’t agree about the division of marital property, you must pursue a regular divorce. Florida has two categories for regular dissolution of marriage, uncontested and contested. In either case, one spouse files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the court. The petition states that the marriage is irretrievably broken and includes what the petitioner expects regarding child custody, child support, property division and other pertinent matters.
It's an uncontested divorce when couples agree on property division, child custody issues and other matters. When couples cannot reach an agreement, it’s a contested divorce. For the latter, the couple relies on the courts to solve the matter. If it gets to that point, the judge may order you to mediation with a neutral third party to try and resolve your differences. If mediation doesn’t work, the divorce case then proceeds to trial before a judge.
Filing in Lee County
Lee County allows you to purchase and complete the necessary forms for a simplified dissolution of marriage via an online program called TurboCourt. Otherwise, you can find the forms via a link on the homepage of the Lee County Clerk of the Court's website at: LeeClerk.org. They also provide a handy checklist to help you track the forms you need.
Once you’ve completed the forms, file them with the clerk of the court. Filing fees are due when the paperwork is submitted. Call ahead to check on the exact fee amount – generally about $500. Ask what payment methods the court accepts, since some courts accept only cash or a money order. The clerk sets your hearing date. You must provide extra copies of the hearing form and two self-addressed envelopes so the clerk can send you copies of the hearing notice by mail.
You can also purchase forms for a regular divorce via the online TurboCourt website or obtain them through the court’s website. Because of the legal complexity surrounding child custody and other factors in a regular divorce, it’s generally recommended you seek the guidance of an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, your local legal aid society may be able to offer legal assistance or provide names of attorneys in your area who work for reduced or no fees.