What happens after you file a petition for dissolution of marriage?
In part 1 of this post, we explained that in Florida one spouse can start divorce proceedings by filing a petition for dissolution of marriage with the appropriate state court. The petitioner then must initiate lawful service of process of the petition and summons on the other spouse, called the respondent, giving them legal notice of the petition.
Divorce in Florida is no-fault, meaning you don’t need either spouse to be at fault for the marriage falling apart. It just needs to be “irretrievably broken.” Alternatively, the court can grant a divorce based on one spouse’s incapacity.
What will the court do after the petitioner properly serves the respondent?
If the respondent was properly served, they can file an answer with the court within 20 days and begin the divorce process, either by negotiating or mediating a settlement or proceeding to trial on issues to which they cannot agree.
If there are minor kids or if the respondent denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the court may order the parties to see a counselor or religious advisor, freeze the proceedings up to three months to enable reconciliation or take “such other action” in the best interests of the spouses and minor children, such as ordering the parties to mediation of their differences.
If there are no minor children and the respondent agrees the marriage is irretrievably broken, Florida law provides that the court “shall” grant the divorce, if the judge agrees the marriage is broken. The court will either incorporate the parties’ settlement agreement into the divorce judgment or schedule a trial.
What if the respondent does not answer the summons?
If the respondent fails to answer after having been properly served, the petitioner may file a motion for a default judgment against the respondent. There are specific requirements for getting to a default, including serving notice of a final hearing on the petition on the respondent.
This only introduces a complicated process under Florida law. A divorce attorney can answer specific questions and explain your options for proceeding.