Do you need an attorney for your family law case?
In our opinion, it is always in your best interest to be represented by a practicing family law attorney in a domestic relations case. The truth of the matter is however, that you are not required to be represented by an attorney. You can represent yourself, pro se. Many civil courthouses even have Supreme Court approved forms available to assist you in your pro se family law case. At the Tavares, Tavares, Florida courthouse, for example, you can purchase all the necessary forms to file your Dissolution of Marriage case for $15.00. You can also go to http://www.flcourts.org/ and download the forms.
Nevertheless there are situations in which we would strongly encourage you to hire an attorney, some of those situation include:
- The opposing party is represented by an attorney in a contested divorce. Time and time again we see clients who were railroaded in their divorce case after having represented themselves against an attorney.
- Domestic Violence Injunction. Having a domestic violence injunction issued against you can adversely affect many aspects of your life including your employment and visitation/time-sharing with your minor child. Often times, a parent will file for an injunction against the other parent, on behalf of their minor child, asserting that the parent filing for the injunction fears that the parent filed against will harm the minor child. In a case such as this, the parent against whom the injunction is sought faces the possibility of having a court order that he or she may not have any contact with their child for a substantial amount of time.
- Mediation. In Florida, most domestic relations cases will be referred to mediation before the court will hear any of the issues. Having an attorney at mediation is helpful so you can be sure that your legal rights are being protected during the mediation process. Even if your mediator is an attorney, he or she is a neutral third party and cannot give you legal advice … and remember that once you sign a mediation agreement it becomes a binding agreement that is difficult to alter.
- Hearings and Trial. There are many parts of a domestic relations proceeding that do not involve appearing before a judge. However, at hearings and trial you will be appearing before a judge in a court of law and there are numerous rules governing those proceedings that you probably won’t know or understand. This lack of knowledge can be detrimental to your case because “ignorance of the law is not a defense”. If you are representing yourself in a court proceeding you are held to the same standard as an attorney. Therefore, it is possible that certain material evidence that could have a vast impact on your case will not be admitted or considered by the judge because you did not know the procedure for properly entering it. It’s also possible that the judge could receive and consider evidence entered by the opposing party that damages your case; but, had you known the proper objection, that damaging evidence might never have been admitted for consideration. And once again, any order that comes from that hearing or trial is binding and difficult to alter or ammend.
Many people decide to represent themselves in domestic relations proceedings to save money only to find that in the long run, it costs them much more that it would have cost if they had hired an attorney at the outset. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel that you cannot afford an attorney for the entirety of your case, consider hiring an attorney for limited representation to represent you at mediation, hearings, or trial.