Does the State of Florida Recognize "Abandonment" as a Reason for Divorce?
By Beverly Bird
All states recognize no-fault divorce, but many states also allow spouses to file on fault grounds such as abandonment. This isn't the case in Florida. Even if your spouse leaves or abandons you with the intention of ending the marriage, you can only file for divorce by telling the court in your petition for dissolution that your marriage just isn't working out anymore. However, you may be able to bring the fact of your spouse's abandonment to the attention of the court in other ways.
Florida Divorce Grounds
Florida is a "pure" no-fault state – it recognizes only two divorce grounds and neither have anything to do with marital misconduct. You can file for irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, or mental incapacity on the part of your spouse. The latter isn't technically a fault ground because if someone suffers from mental illness, it's not misconduct or something he's voluntarily chosen. The requirements for filing on grounds of mental incapacity are somewhat stiff in Florida. Your spouse must have a legitimately diagnosed condition that's lasted for three years or more. Therefore, as a practical matter, Florida has only one divorce ground: irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, which means that your marriage has failed and there's no hope of saving it.
If your spouse has abandoned you, this is usually a pretty clear indication that he wants to end the marriage and that he won't fight the divorce. If you agree that your marriage is broken and if you can negotiate a settlement resolving all issues of property and debt division, you can be divorced relatively quickly in Florida in some cases. The state offers a simplified divorce option, but it requires some level of cooperation between you and your spouse, and you must meet other requirements as well. You can't have any dependent children under the age of 18, you must waive the right to alimony or spousal support, and you must appear in court together when the judge grants your divorce.
Dissolution of Marriage
If you and your spouse can't agree on how to end your marriage, or if you have minor children or otherwise fail to meet the requirements for a simplified Florida divorce, you'll have to proceed with a regular dissolution. You can continue trying to reach a settlement during the proceedings, and if you do, you'll receive an uncontested divorce. Otherwise, you'd have to go to trial so the court can decide issues for you. Regular dissolution gives you and your spouse the right to request financial and other documentation from each other through a process called discovery, so you're both sure of the nature of your debts and assets. If your spouse left you and has remained gone for a considerable period of time so you have no idea what's been happening with his finances, this might be to your advantage. You can consult with an attorney for some guidance as to which option is best for you if you’re eligible for a simplified divorce.
Alimony and Property Distribution
If you have to go to trial so a judge can resolve issues of your marriage, you can present evidence of your spouse's abandonment in this context. Although Florida is a pure no-fault state, it allows you to introduce marital fault at trial if it affects issues of property division, alimony or parental responsibility. Typically, you'd have to prove that your spouse's abandonment negatively affected the economics of your marriage, or that he left your children as well as you, so he should not have custody.
- The Florida Legislature: The 2012 Florida Statutes
- The Florida Bar: Divorce in Florida Pamphlet
- Donald G. Crisccuolo: Fort Lauderdale Adultery and Other Marital Misconduct
- ConsumerReports.org: Divorce, American-Style – No-Fault is Now the Law in All 50 States
- Florida Family Law Clinic: Florida Custody and Visitation Rights (Time Sharing)
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.