What is a Pro Se Litigant?
Every day, I am asked, “Why can't I represent myself in my divorce . . . I will just buy the “Do It Yourself Divorce Package.” Often times self-represented parties are referred to as, “Pro Se Litigants.” Family Law is not just about the need to fill out and file important forms. With so much at stake in virtually every divorce or any other family law case, legal advice is essential. This is why I advise people not to waste their time or money on forms. You have a much better chance of being protected when you hire a well-qualified, competent lawyer. Only a licensed, experienced, Florida Family Law attorney can you give you the advice and guidance you deserve. The outcome of these kinds of cases will have long-lasting consequences that you, your former spouse, and children may have to live with for many years to come. Those attorneys who dedicate themselves to practicing Domestic Relations or Family Law, regularly attend important seminars, keep abreast of the changes and developments in the law and have extensive courtroom experience that proves to be invaluable to their clients, thereby passing along this wealth of knowledge to the benefit of their clients. A well-respected Family Law attorney is someone who judges usually know and respect. Because the statutes involved in family law are sometimes confusing and rather complicated, there is no substitute for getting proper legal advice, if needed. By logging in to any search engine, you can hundreds of internet companies and paralegals who will charge a modest fee for a stack of forms so that you can file your own divorce. These companies and paralegals are not permitted to give you legal advice, go to court with you or even give you their interpretation of the law. The providers of such forms can not tell you what you should or should not do or how to conduct a hearing. In fact, their only role should be limited to selling the forms themselves, nothing more! When you think of how much it costs to buy the forms, and pay the Clerk of Court for filing fees, you have already invested quite a sum of money in your case that could have been used towards the hiring of an experienced Family Law attorney. Because you will not be given advice by the provider of forms, you will be doing all of the leg work and kept in the dark regarding the procedures and laws that you must follow. Remember, only a licensed lawyer is allowed to give you legal advice. If a paralegal, copy center, or legal form provider gives you legal advice, they could be charged with the crime of, “Unauthorized Practice of Law.” You should never confuse the purchase of a divorce kit with having a specially trained lawyer as your counsel. Even if you never went to law school or took the Bar Examination, you will be charged with the same level of understanding of the law as the licensed attorney, when you are acting as your own lawyer. A person who represents themselves in court or in any civil proceeding will be required to accept all of the responsibilities as well. A “Pro Se Litigant,” will be expected to prepare legal pleadings and written motions in an acceptable format, notice and schedule future court hearings, keep track of court-ordered deadlines, understand and follow the Rules of Procedure, adhere to the Rules of Evidence, question witnesses and the opposing party in an acceptable manner, complete and execute financial disclosure documents in a timely manner, and do many other things that the judge will require. The judge may not allow a Pro Se litigant to offer excuses for the lack of knowledge in failing to follow the law or court orders.
There's a saying that applies to just about anyone who is, or has represented themselves in a legal matter: “Penny wise, pound foolish.” Saving money by not having hired a lawyer may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but that's usually only true until the case is finally concluded and you must live with the consequences of a bad or unfavorable result. There are hundreds of examples of ways a lawyer can assist their clients who are involved in a difficult family law matter and you should always be aware of the magnitude of going into one of these kinds of cases, without having had the benefit of an experienced lawyer. Even the most simple divorce, child custody, grandparent rights case, child support, or paternity case, or other family law matters, require a level of competency only an experienced Family Law lawyer can provide.
In some cases, the parties can agree to all aspects of their family law case and want to enter into a parenting plan and other agreements. This is an optimistic view of what can happen when parents remain communitive and can fully co-parent their children.
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