As a marital and family law firm, in only the rarest of circumstances would we suggest you represent yourself in court in Tallahassee, Florida. However, many people cannot afford legal representation. If you must handle your own divorce, here are some basics you should consider.
You must conduct research and understand the laws, procedures, and technicalities of your case — including how your argument will make sense to the court. You should be familiar with the applicable statutes and rules. For divorce, this is Chapter 61 of Florida Statutes and all rules listed in the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure. Those representing themselves in Florida may find some useful legal resources at the Florida Supreme Court’s website and your local court website.
Without an attorney, you must know where your case will be held, how to dress professionally and how to correctly present your evidence and argument in court. Call the clerk’s office to inquire about your hearing location. As soon as you know the date, time, and location, head to the courthouse in advance to make sure you can find the courtroom easily. Plan for travel time and factor in any unexpected issues to avoid showing up late. Dress neatly and modestly. Address all persons formally. Never interrupt or argue with the judge.
If you are going to court, take the time to write out your statement and practice it so you feel prepared to present it to a judge with confidence and professionalism. Identify any documents or proof you want to show the judge. Keep your documents well organized in case the judge asks for specific information.
Representing yourself can lead to a poor outcome, which is typically irreversible. Florida law and procedure are complex. You must fill out the correct form, file forms in a certain order, serve the other party with the forms, and ask the court to take specific action. You must comply with deadlines and contact the right personnel to move your case forward. You may experience many delays and incur costs to re-file things properly and fix your mistakes.
Even if you comply with forms and deadlines, the court may ultimately rule in favor of the other party if you haven’t presented your case in the strongest way — and/or you may lose more money than you would have spent on an attorney.
Consulting with a legal professional can help you avoid these issues and feel more confident about your case. I advise everyone, even my own family members, to meet with an attorney to best understand your specific risks and required actions.
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