Grounds for Divorce in Florida

February 3, 2015

Florida, since the 1970s, has had a no-fault divorce law. This means that to obtain a divorce, officially known as a “dissolution of marriage,” neither party has to prove bad behavior, such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment, on the part of the other spouse. Instead, there are two grounds for divorce:

  • That the marriage is irretrievably broken, or
  • The mental incapacity of one of the parties.

Thus, to obtain a dissolution of marriage, the party seeking the divorce must declare the grounds for divorce and prove the existence of the grounds with testimony or evidence.

Irretrievably Broken

To show that a marriage is irretrievably broken, a spouse must show that the parties have differences and disputes that are so severe that they cannot be resolved and that they have caused the marriage to break down. Since irretrievable breakdown must be proven, this means that one party could argue that the marriage is not in fact broken. Often, however, even if one party claims that the marriage is not irretrievably broken, the court will dissolve the marriage anyway. This is because the nature of marriage is such that a marriage will not function without the cooperation of both parties.

If there are minor children involved, or if irretrievable breakdown is not proven, the court may:

  • Order marriage counselling for the couple,
  • Continue, or postpone, the proceedings for up to three months, or
  • Take other action that is in the best interests of the spouses and the minor children.
Mental Incapacity

The grounds of mental incapacity are rarely used. To qualify for divorce on the grounds of mental incapacity, a spouse seeking divorce must show that one party has been adjudged incapacitated at least three years before the divorce. This means that an examining committee of three qualified members, such as physicians, psychiatrists, gerontologists, social workers, registered nurses, etc., determines that a person lacks the ability to make informed decisions about and meet basic requirements for his or her own care.

If those requirements have been met, then notice of dissolution of marriage must be served on either the guardian of the incapacitated person or on one of his or her closest blood relatives. If the only guardian for the incapacitated spouse is the spouse who is bringing the divorce action, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem. The incapacitated party’s guardian may appear and be heard on the issues of the divorce.

Other Issues

Grounds such as adultery or cruelty can influence divorce in Florida other ways, however. For example, a limited divorce in Florida, which is equivalent to a legal separation, can be requested based on cruelty, desertion, or voluntary separation. Additionally, these issues can be taken into account when making an alimony determination. Finally, such problematic behaviors, along with criminal problems, can figure into other aspects of the divorce process. For example, instances of domestic abuse will affect custody arrangements.

For anyone contemplating a divorce, the advice of an attorney is essential to keeping the process as smooth as possible and ensuring that the terms of the divorce are as favorable as they can be. If you are contemplating divorce, please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.