There are essentially five (5) ways to file for divorce in Florida: 1) file as a Pro Se party, 2) seek the assistance of your local Legal Aid department, 3) hire a Private Attorney to file for you, (4) participate in the Collaborative Process, or (5) settle your disputes with mediation.
Many people are unable to afford an attorney so they will file for divorce themselves, as a Pro Se litigant. The Florida Supreme Court has created many Pro Se self-help forms which allow parties access to the courts to represent themselves in family law matters. While this is a great option to keep costs down, we do caution parties when taking this route. Pro Se litigants are held to the same legal standards as lawyers when it comes to filings with the courts. Therefore, failing to plead properly, or even failing to follow the court rules can lead to dire circumstances in their cases, especially when there are children involved. There is no “Ooops, I am not a lawyer” excuse when you are a Pro Se litigant. We always tell our prospective clients, that we are not surgeons so we do not do our own operations, if you are not an attorney you should not do your own legal work.
The next option for parties is to seek the assistance of your local Legal Aid Department. Many Legal Aid Departments have specific types of cases that they assist people with if they meet the income requirements. This option is not for everyone, it is limited to a very small group of cases.
A party can hire a private attorney to assist them in filing their divorce. As mentioned previously, there are many legal standards and rules when it comes to family law. Because everyone’s case is different, a private attorney will be able to provide a party all of the legal options and strategies that are best suited for their specific case.
The last option is to participate in the Collaborative Process (see our website for full details) or Mediation (see more information on the website). The Collaborative Process is a great option for divorcing parties to learn how to problem solve, co-parent and resolve their disputes amicably without the need of court. You must hire a “coach” (attorney) that is collaboratively trained, and Ms. Schwam-Wilcox is trained in the collaborative process and as a Florida Supreme Court Family Law Mediator. Mediation works better if you hire an attorney because a mediator can facilitate the process but cannot provide you with legal advice; however, you can also attend mediation pro se, the choice is yours.