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Once the Petition For Dissolution of Marriage is filed, your spouse is entitled to receive it. Until such time as it is properly served upon your spouse, they have no obligation to answer the Petition or do anything at all. The law requires that the Petition be properly served on your spouse. This means that a Sheriff or process server needs to bring it to your spouse and confirm that your spouse was served. There are exceptions to the requirement of personal service such as “substitute service”. That means that the process server can leave the Petition at the usual place of abode of your spouse in the hands of a co-tenant of your spouse who is 15 years of age or older.

Once served your spouse generally speaking has twenty days to file an Answer or responsive pleading, or a default judgment can be entered against them. So you cannot simply mail or hand to your spouse the Petition. (Unless your spouse for example would sign a document waiving formal service of process which they have a right to). And if it is an uncontested situation where everybody agrees on everything and each party is going to cooperate to get it done, there need not be formal service with a process server or Sheriff. Your spouse can sign an appropriate document waiving formal service instead of being served by the Sheriff or process server. If this happens, the case can proceed very quickly. As mentioned, once served, a Petition must be responded to in twenty days. (in writing) Your spouse can respond to what you have in the Petition and also file a Counter-Petition asking for whatever they may want. If your spouse fails to answer the Petition within the twenty day deadline, a default judgment can be entered against your spouse and you can proceed directly to court to testify before the judge about what you are seeking.

There is also a provision in the law where instead of formally serving your spouse, you can publish the matter in the newspaper. It would have to be published on four consecutive occasions in a proper legally recognized newspaper or publication. The circumstances where you can do this include a situation where your spouse is truly missing. (You have to sign a sworn Affidavit of Diligent Search indicating that you have really tried to find them and cannot.) The search, among other things would include, speaking to family and friends, and employers/former employers, etc. You cannot publish just because your spouse doesn’t choose to talk to you or because you don’t feel like looking hard to find them. Another circumstance where you can publish instead of personally serving is where your spouse is in a foreign country, or your spouse affirmatively conceals their whereabouts.

If you publish the matter and your spouse has not answered by the deadline indicated in the notice that gets published, you can get a default judgment and then proceed directly to court. Note however that in a Florida dissolution of marriage (divorce) where you have published, the judge, as a general proposition, can only grant a divorce. In other words, the court cannot for example award alimony. There may however be circumstances where the court could award property or assets to you if you have published.

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