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Why Can’t I Represent Myself in My Florida Divorce?
The short answer is that, of course, you can. The better answer is that you shouldn't. Any person can go to court without a lawyer in any legal matter. That applies to everything from small claims court to defense of a first degree murder charge. But the more important the issues, the less intelligent it is for you to do that. For instance, if you are charged with a parking violation, you may be safe to represent yourself. If you are charged with a serious crime, you wouldn't want to risk years in prison by having an amateur defense.
Let's look at what is at risk in divorce case. If you have children, obviously all of the contact you will have with them until they are adults is at risk. Everything that you own is at stake. If you are the higher wage earner, your income is at stake in a potential alimony claim. The Florida divorce lawyers in our office have frequently had to help people clean up the mess that they have unintentionally made as they represented themselves in family court matters before coming to us. It is often more expensive to fix the problem than it would have been to handle it initially.
Even if you and your spouse are pretty sure of how you want to settle all of the areas of dispute, you still are at risk of drafting an agreement that doesn't do what you think it does. The best divorce lawyers in Florida have all experienced many cases where people come to them to fix problems which have been created by poor draftsmanship in the agreements they reached with their spouses. The most serious involve disagreements as to the meaning of the language of custody provisions within a marital settlement agreement. Other serious problems occur with division of property and especially with the division of retirement plans.
When you consider what is at risk, representing yourself in a divorce should not be considered as an option. I am frugal as to spending my own money, but when it comes to important things like filing my taxes or dealing with medical or dental issues, I let the experts handle things. When it comes to a Florida divorce, you will have more peace of mind that you have done things the right way if you retain an expert Florida divorce lawyer to help you through the process.
Bottom Line: Always use a lawyer if you are in a divorce proceeding. The risks of being stuck with a bad outcome and having to spend a great deal of money to change it are too great.
(copyright Stann Givens 2009)
One spouse must live in Florida for six consecutive months preceding the filing for a divorce. This Florida residency requirement must be met in order for the court to have jurisdiction over the divorce case.
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