Many people consider representing themselves in their Florida divorce case to be a good idea. They believe that it saves them money; they can do it faster; and they don’t believe that a lawyer offers them much value. However, this analysis is more than just a bit short-sighted. Oftentimes, the expense of representing oneself in their Florida divorce is more costly than paying for a West Palm Beach attorney. As in life, things rarely work out for someone representing themselves in a divorce as they might have initially hoped. Protecting yourself and your interests in a divorce case is much more complicated than most people think.
Some of the problems that occur to those who represent themselves (pro se litigants) include the following:
- Leaving money on the table. While people who handle their own divorces may realize that they may be entitled to half the existing checking accounts and bank accounts, they may forget to fully explore the existence and the distribution of and the division of pensions, retirement accounts, stock options, life insurance policies, 401Ks, and other retirement accounts;
- Failure to obtain protection for awards. Pro se litigants seldom request the protection of agreed-upon alimony payments or child support payments by having the paying spouse be required to obtain or keep in place life insurance. The purpose of the life insurance is to secure payments of ongoing alimony and child support in the event that the paying spouse dies. Failure to obtain this death coverage may victimize the children of the pro se litigant and the pro se litigant in the event that there’s an untimely death of the paying spouse;
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- Knowledge of the law. Divorce attorneys have gone through 3 years of law school and have a great deal of experience. Board certified family law attorneys are designated as experts in family law by The Florida Bar. Their experience and knowledge within the law far exceeds any pro se litigant. A pro se litigant does not know the family law rules of procedure and may miss a deadline that requires the filing of documents for information with the court. The failure to meet that deadline may jeopardize the pro se litigant’s ability to argue issues in court or to provide necessary witnesses or evidence to protect their claims. In addition, pro se litigants do not know the proper way to question witnesses or to present – through evidence – the facts needed to establish their claims in court. The failure to provide necessary information to establish your claims can result in a pro se litigant obtaining far less in terms of support and acquisition of assets than the pro se litigant would have obtained had they been represented by counsel. Attorneys have knowledge as to what discretion the Florida divorce statutes and case law permit the judge to utilize on any given issue. Even more importantly, a board certified family law attorney also knows the personal preferences and predilections of the judges and how the judge will utilize his or her discretion in a particular issue. Consequently, the divorce attorney and board certified family lawyer can provide his or her client an educated analysis of whether an offer made by the opposing party should be accepted or whether that issue should be tried before the court;
- Negotiation, litigation, and all other issues necessary to settle or litigate a case are skills that are honed over long periods of time. Most people do not have extensive experience in negotiation or litigation, coming in with little or no experience of your own can put you at a tremendous disadvantage, particularly if your spouse is represented by an attorney;
- Emotions can take over your case. The one aspect a board certified, experienced West Palm Beach family law attorney can provide you is an objective neutral view of your circumstances, goals and evidence in your case. If you represent yourself, you lose one of the biggest advantages offered by an experience board certified attorney – an experienced objective opinion. Your attorney will work tirelessly to represent your best interests; however, he or she is not part of your marriage and as a result can be more objective when analyzing your case, planning strategy and making decisions on what issues should be litigated and what issues should be settled. If you represent yourself, settlement negotiations can quickly deteriorate into emotional yelling matches, tug‑of-wars, and emotional battles. Family law is emotionally charged and at times substantially so.
- Unpredictability. Family law in the State of Florida can be unpredictable in terms of how long the case will take, or what it will cost.