If you’re contemplating a divorce, chances are you’ve thought about representing yourself instead of hiring an attorney. This would be what’s known as a “pro se” divorce. Pro se is the Latin term for “on one’s own behalf” and signifies an individual is acting as his or her own lawyer instead of hiring one.
Today, many people choose to be pro se litigants in family law courts and go it alone without a lawyer. The state of Florida doesn’t officially track numbers but some reports indicate more than half of all divorces occur without legal representation.
Saving money is the obvious factor in do-it-yourself divorces. Certainly, filling out your own forms and filing them in court will save on attorney fees. The downside? Maybe having to trust that you aren’t making mistakes that could come back to haunt you … or being overwhelmed by it all during what is probably the worst time of your life.
Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between all-or-nothing. There is a middle ground between hiring a lawyer to handle everything versus doing everything yourself.
It’s been available in Florida for more than a decade. In 2003, the Florida Supreme Court changed rules for attorneys representing clients in family law cases, allowing lawyers to unbundle their services.
Help when you need it
Unbundling also is referred to as limited scope representation. It means the lawyer can be available for advice only when you need it. That might be through a consultation, document review or representing you at a hearing.
The Florida court system also has made it easier for pro se litigants through establishing self-help programs for family law cases and providing court-approved forms online for marital settlement agreements, parenting plans and other necessary documents.
Unbundled services offered at my office include drafting pleadings and representing clients at mediations. Clients also have completed first drafts of documents and then have us review them. If they’re not right, then we can correct it.
We also sit down for consultations about what to do next and how to proceed, such as when a vocational evaluation is needed or the client must file a motion for rehearing.
And we make ourselves available for “divorce 101” meetings about family law in Florida. This is when we can give you an overview about what to expect and what issues to be aware of in your particular circumstances. I highly recommend this for anyone who is thinking about a divorce. Sometimes just being aware of your options can relieve anxiety, especially when you are fearful about proceeding.
I also recommend seeking the advice of an attorney for preparing a parenting plan and talking about what’s good and what’s fair. In Florida, divorcing parents are required to submit parenting plans to the court, which nearly always orders shared custody and shared child support. If you have a special-needs child, it’s especially critical to think carefully when drafting a parenting plan and determining what your child is likely to need both now and long-term.
Document review is also a good idea when dividing marital assets like a Thrift Savings Plan, where the rules are very specific and mistakes will negatively affect distribution. And you should know your rights in cases like a military divorce, which can be more complicated for issues such as dividing a military pension.