Spouses often wonder whether they can get a divorce without an attorney. While you are free to seek a divorce on your own, there are a number of advantages to having an experienced lawyer by your side. Moreover, not having an attorney could jeopardize your interests and end up costing you much more in the long run.
Orlando Family Team is committed to helping our clients find cost-effective and practical solutions to their family law matters. Before deciding whether to pursue a divorce on your own, learn more about how the process works and the advantages of having a lawyer.
Is It Possible to Divorce Without a Lawyer?
The law uses the term “pro se” to refer to a party who represents him- or herself in court. Florida allows people to file and pursue certain cases pro se, including divorce. You can also represent yourself whether your spouse has an attorney or not.
However, the reverse of this is also true: the other party can hire an attorney to represent them regardless of whether you do. While criminal defendants are provided legal counsel as a constitutional right, civil litigants – including those working through Florida’s divorce courts – have no right to an attorney. You and your spouse may start off with neither party having an attorney, then suddenly he or she hires one.
Also, be aware that the court will not give you a break just because you choose to forgo legal representation. There is a myth that judges let unrepresented parties slide on things like local rules and evidence standards. You will be expected to understand the various laws and rules that will govern your case just as an attorney would have to.
Overview Of The Divorce Process
Florida has two grounds for divorce, but you need to be sure they apply to your case if you wish to represent yourself. One ground is mental incapacity, which requires one spouse to be declared mentally incapable for a three-year period prior to filling.
The more common reason to file for divorce is “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.” While you don’t need allegations of fault like you used to, the reason that the marriage fell apart could prove relevant in matters like alimony and equitable division of property.
Before you file your paperwork at the courthouse, you must have proof the marriage actually exists to begin with. Then, be sure you meet the state’s residency requirements. Either you or the other spouse must have lived in Florida for at least 6 months prior to filing. When you are ready, you have to file the petition for marital dissolution as well as a summons signed by the clerk of court.
There are broadly two types of divorce in Florida, uncontested and contested. Pro se plaintiffs can pursue an uncontested divorce where they and the other spouse have no major disagreements on the issues. An uncontested divorce still requires an agreement that the court must approve.
If you represent yourself, consider a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage. Using this procedure, the parties could be divorced in about 30 days. But there are some important limitations to the simplified divorce. Chief among them: the parties must have no children together under age 18, or any dependent children. The wife also must not be pregnant, and alimony cannot be involved. You will waive your right to a trial and appeal by using this process.
A contested divorce is what most people think of when they imagine spouses fighting in court. This step is used when the parties cannot agree on how to resolve issues that arose during the marriage. Like any other divorce, you can represent yourself pro se. But these kinds of divorces can turn ugly very quickly.
I Filed For Divorce; Now What?
It’s not enough to file your divorce paperwork – you have to actually serve it on the other spouse. Florida offers pro se plaintiffs a number of options for serving, such as using the sheriff or a process server. However, it’s important to follow the various rules concerning service. Failure to effectively serve the paperwork will significantly delay your divorce.
Once the divorce is filed, you and the other spouse can resolve any outstanding issues using mediation. In mediation, a third party neutral helps the spouses settle their issues. You don’t have to have a lawyer at mediation, although the other spouse is allowed to. The mediator assists the parties, but does not decide any issues. If you and the other spouse can resolve everything, an agreement can be sent to the court for approval.
Risks Of a Divorce Without a Lawyer
While you can proceed through divorce as a pro se party, doing so is not without risk. An attorney understands Florida divorce law with respect to issues such as custody, child support, alimony, and how to divide marital property and debts. Whether the other spouse has a lawyer or not, knowing the state’s divorce statutes is key to asserting the rights available to you under law.
An attorney is also familiar with discovery, the process used to obtain valuable and relevant information concerning the marriage. Discovery may be used, for example, to uncover hidden assets like a bank account or pension. If you don’t understand how discovery works, you could be missing out on assets the law entitles you to. The other party can use discovery procedures against you, too. Failing to properly respond or object to them could jeopardize your case and cost you much more.
Contact An Orlando Divorce Lawyer Today
It’s a good idea to at least speak with an experienced Florida divorce attorney before deciding to represent yourself. Orlando Family Team can explain your legal options, help you weigh the advantages of disadvantages of being pro se, and let you make the decision that is best for you. Call today to speak with our team.