Friday, February 15, 2008

Pro Se, Paralegals, and Attorneys

There are basically three ways you can bring your family law case to the courthouse. The first is filing and handling the case Pro Se (Pro-Say), this is where YOU act as your own attorney and handle the case yourself. The court has a Pro Se help unit established to assist in filing cases. Although they are called the Pro Se help unit, they are more like the “We’ll Give You Some Forms Unit.” The help you receive, if you receive any help at all, is negligible at best. They will tell you what to file and how to file, but they do not provide ANY LEGAL ADVICE. A very common phrase in the legal community is “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” The family law forms can be confusing and daunting and if improperly filled out can delay your case and cause all sorts of problems.

Another way to bring your case is to have a document provider service or a paralegal fill out your case forms for you and you handle the rest of the case Pro Se. I cannot tell you how many people tell me, “My friend is a paralegal and can do my divorce.” That is true, cheap will get you a cheap divorce, you get what you pay for. This alternative is not, in my opinion, any better than doing it on your own. Your forms will be filled out for you, hopefully correctly but you still have to act as your own attorney. In Florida, only licensed attorneys can provide you with legal advice, represent you, and appear with you in court, mediation, or a settlement conference to fight for your side of the case. You will be left adrift to navigate the legal waters on your own.

According to a recent article, in South Florida the number of Pro Se case filings in family law cases has increased at a considerable rate. These cases have caused so many problems there is now a back log which strain the courts’ dockets in the region. These cases take longer to resolve which means your divorce takes longer. The problem is so bad in Broward County they have established Pro Se dockets to deal with the problem. In Miami Dade and Palm Beach, there are no such special dockets so your case will linger in the system until resolved. Some of these problem cases have resulted in post judgment hearings which undo what has been done and create even more of a delay for your case. Another thing to consider when going this route is that if the case gets messed up you may have a hard time hiring an attorney to straighten out the mess. I know that when I get called by someone to take over their case I am very reluctant to do so. Sometimes the case has become more of a headache than it is worth. If you are fortunate enough to find an attorney to take over your case you may find the attorney’s fee is higher than it would have been if you hired a lawyer in the first place. It is always more expensive to go back and fix something the second time than to do it right the first time.

The route I recommend you take toward pursuing your divorce is to hire an attorney. I bet you would have never guessed that would be my recommendation, huh? An attorney can navigate your case through the court system, appear with you at hearings, provide you with legal advice, and resolve your case as efficiently as possible. Studies have conclusively shown that people who have an attorney representing them in divorce cases are more satisfied with the outcome than those who proceed Pro Se. An attorney can provide you with the correct legal advice and counseling to allow you to make important decisions at a time when emotions are running high and you are vulnerable. Making a mistake at a critical stage in a divorce proceeding can be costly and you could be paying for that mistake for a very long time. The money you tried to save by going it on your own can actually end up costing you more, a lot more, in the long run.

If you insist upon representing yourself, Florida uses standard family law forms and all the forms can be found for free at:

1 comment:

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