Which Florida county should your Florida divorce be filed in?

All divorce cases in Florida must be filed in a circuit court and ultimately only a Florida circuit judge has the authority to enter a final judgment of dissolution of marriage (or a county judge acting with special authority).

There are 67 counties in Florida and they are divided into 20 judicial circuits.  So, if you are getting divorced in Florida your case must be filed in one of those 20 judicial circuits.  Each judicial circuit court has a court clerk.  The clerks accept the court papers and filing fees, randomly assign a circuit judge to the case, assign the case a case number and open a docket sheet.

Florida circuit courts are courts of record, meaning records are kept of the proceedings.  As papers are filed the clerk will enter the paper onto the court’s official docket sheet and put the paper into an official court file.  Docket sheets are accessible to the public online and with proper passwords, lawyers and litigants can access not only docket sheets but copies of the actual documents filed.  In the old days you would have to travel to the courthouse to view the official court file in order to do see what was filed.

Okay, so you want to file your Florida divorce case.  Where do you file, which circuit court and county should you select?  In other words, where should venue lie (legalese for where do you file)?

As a general rule – remember that most all rules in the law have exceptions – venue lies in the county where the parties last lived with a common intent to remain married.  So, if you last lived in Broward County with a common intent to remain married, that’s where you file the case.

What if you never lived in Florida together?  Many people grow up outside of Florida, get married outside of Florida, have families outside of Florida, then one of them moves into Florida.  Let’s say it’s the husband who has moved to Florida and has lived here for more than 6 months.  Wife, who lives in Ohio, wants a divorce and likes the alimony laws here better than Ohio’s.  She hires a smart young lady divorce lawyer in Fort Lauderdale who files her case in the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court in and for Broward County, Florida, pays the clerk’s filing fee, has the clerk issue a summons and gets a process server to serve the husband where he lives in Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida.  Husband hires a sharp divorce lawyer, also a young lady, who cries foul.  “My client should not have to go to Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, Florida to defend the divorce case there” she says, “wife should file her case here in Duval County.”

Because there is no Florida county where the parties lived with the common intent to be married, husband’s lawyer is quite right.  Husband needs to file a motion to either dismiss the Fort Lauderdale, Broward County divorce case or to have the court order it moved to Jacksonville, Duval County.  Here’s the rub, husband must file that motion within 20 days of being served or he waives the right to later object to improper venue.  Failing that, husband cannot be later heard to complain about venue being wrong.

Bottom line, so long as a Florida circuit court has subject matter jurisdiction over the marriage – one or both parties must reside in Florida for no less than 6 months at the time the case is filed – any Florida circuit court can exercise venue over the marriage and the case can be filed in any circuit court in any of Florida’s 67 counties.  It is not unusual for a high profile couple who are divorcing and not wanting all the world to know their business to file their divorce case in either a far away or rural county so the newspapers and other news outlets do not catch wind of the divorce.

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