If you represent yourself during your divorce or family law matter, then you are considered a pro se party. If you choose to proceed without an attorney, the court, generally, will hold you to the same rules as an attorney, including applicable evidence rules at any hearings or trial. Additionally, as a pro se party, the court in general will hold you to any agreements that you enter into in your case. That means if you do not like what happened in your case, you usually cannot claim later that because you did not have the benefit of an attorney you did not know what you were signing or agreeing to, or that you made a mistake in how you handled something. The court cannot give you legal advice, so you will be held to your mistakes. Further, if you act as your own attorney, you will have to continue to deal with your spouse and his or her attorney on all of the issues in your case. This can cause further stress and strain on an already broken marriage or relationship, and it can cause additional stress on you.
While legally you can represent yourself in your divorce or family law matter, it is often the wrong choice to make.
You may be at a disadvantage if your spouse is savvier than you or if your spouse hires an attorney. If you proceed pro se, recognize that the attorney your spouse hires will most likely have the experience and expertise needed to litigate the case, and you will not. However, if you choose to represent yourself, one significant advantage of not hiring an attorney is that you do not have to pay for attorneys’ fees and costs, which can be very expensive.
While the low cost of self-representation is desirable, there are often significant advantages to hiring an attorney. A divorce or other family law issue can be a complicated and stressful matter. If you retain an attorney, you can take a step back from the case and allow your attorney to deal with some of the unpleasant issues on your behalf. Because attorneys generally know the law and know what legal issues to look for, they can help you address issues that you may not have been aware of on your own, and they can do so in a legally correct manner. Additionally, the right attorney will have resources and contacts that make hiring professionals and expert witnesses easier. Skilled and ethical attorneys will also provide you with appropriate advice and counsel to make sure that the issues that you raise are based on law and fact and not simply an emotional reaction to the situation, ultimately saving you time and money. Most importantly, experienced attorneys have expertise in handling divorce cases and addressing the complex legal and financial issues that arise in divorce. It goes without saying that if your spouse retains an attorney and you do not, you could be at a disadvantage in your divorce or family law issue.
If you are unable to afford an attorney and wish to have one, you may still be able to get assistance for your family law issue at little or no cost. Consider the following options:
- Contact your local legal aid organization;if you qualify, you may be able to get free full-service representation from a legal aid attorney. Legal aid offices have specific qualifications for client representation, so you should check with the local office in your area regarding their requirements.
- Some assistance may be available through your local women’s shelter if you need assistance with a domestic violence action.
- If you are seeking child support for your child or enforcement of a child support order, the Florida Department of Revenuemay be able to assist you without charge.
- For other family law issues, check out org. It is a fantastic resource to those looking for free or low-cost assistance. It is a website geared specifically to promote access to justice for those who would be unable to afford service in Florida. It gathers much of the available information on pro or low bono representation in one location online.
- Even if you cannot find assistance at your local legal aid organization or at Florida Law Help, in some instances, you may be able to locate an attorney who will take your case on a pro or low bonobasis, or in other words, for free or a reduced cost. If do not see your local bar association referenced on the site, check with your local bar association to see if they have a list of attorneys in your city who are presently taking pro or low bono Keep in mind, though, many attorneys may only provide pro bono service through legal aid or similar organizations.
- Collaborative Law is gaining traction and many attorneys looking to help the movement may help at a different fee level if the parties are good candidates for the collaborative process. Look at the southwest Florida group Collaborative Professionals of Southwest Florida.
- Consider asking the attorney of your choice for a limited form of representation. Florida allows limited forms of representation in order to unbundle legal services and make those services that are of critical need more affordable. So, while you may not be able to hire an attorney to handle your case, you may be able to get representation at mediation or a for a critical hearing or motion.
If you ultimately choose to represent yourself in your divorce, there are resources available to you to assist you in your case. The Supreme Court of Florida has many downloadable forms and instructions to assist you in navigating your case. Many courthouses have family law resource centers where you can also find forms and request general assistance on family law matters. Further, you can review the Florida Statutes online without charge, and you can get access to the rules of procedure.
At Nicole L. Goetz, P.L. we often receive calls for those who may not be able to afford full-service legal representation, and we hope that this information on assistance that may be available is helpful to you. Legal fees are often expensive, and knowing your options are helpful. We make every effort to provide each potential client with the correct information – including when another more affordable option is available and a better fit. However, if you need the assistance of an attorney, for a limited purpose or to handle your entire case, we have the knowledge and experience to guide you through the divorce process from start to finish, including litigation and appeals, if necessary. Please call our office in Naples, Florida to schedule a confidential consultation with our attorneys.
The information provided on law and legal topics is designed for general information only and does not constitute nor should it be considered legal advice. It is not a substitute, nor should it be considered a substitute, for legal advice from a qualified attorney who is knowledgeable about your specific factual situation.