Completing Your Own Divorce Forms Isn’t Easy
In our digital age, finding legal forms online is a breeze. Sites like LegalZoom offer quick stop shopping for those who choose to tackle their legal issues pro se (without an attorney). Even if you think you know your exact legal needs, should you download those legal forms and proceed alone? Without reservation, I submit to you that “do it yourself” legal forms are a very bad idea.
Many states offer to the public court approved legal forms. The Supreme Court of Florida has approved numerous family law forms that are available to the public online and from the various County Clerks of Courts. The forms for almost every conceivable family law situation in Florida are available for free online (Courts charge a fee if you ask for a print out of the forms package). The public policy behind Florida’s family law forms seems sound – we don’t want citizens trapped in marriages simply because they can’t afford a lawyer. However, no two family law cases are the same; so in reality, a family attorney is almost always a necessity.
If you decide that you’ll hop down to the Clerk of Court or online to get a copy of the family law forms package, including detailed instructions for each form, you’ll quickly realize that it’s not as easy to proceed alone as one may think. To say the least, the forms and their instructions are very confusing. In fact, I personally have had many lawyers, just starting out in family law and relying on the forms, call me for direction. If lawyers with expensive degrees struggle to understand the forms and their instructions, how well do you think you’ll fare?
And of course, the forms do not work in a vacuum. The Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure, the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, Florida’s evidence code, case law, hundreds of statutes, and the local courts’ rules drive the course of family law litigation. Simply filing a form is not the be all-end all of your case. Without the legal research skills to investigate every issue thoroughly, you could be filing the wrong form and making a big mess that you’ll have to pay a lawyer to clean up later. There are issues and details that need to be considered that are not obvious from the forms. For example, do you know the basis for an argument that equitable distribution should include the increased value of property that isn’t held in your name but was maintained with martial assets? Probably not, and that could be money you left on the table. Make no doubt about it, the dissolution of marriage that might have been simple and relatively inexpensive, had you hired a lawyer in the first place, can cost thousands of dollars more in legal fees, if you have to hire a lawyer to set things right.
“Oh, but I heard of this paralegal who processes divorces and child custody forms. I’ll just go to her,” you may be thinking, but for the same reasons you shouldn’t handle your family law issues alone, going to a paralegal who straddles the fine line of unauthorized practice of law is also a bad idea. Sure, those forms processing paralegals can help you complete the forms, but they cannot/should not advise you as to the best course of action to protect your best interest.
Getting a divorce, establishing paternity, establishing or modifying child support or alimony, and step-parent adoptions, among the thousands of family law issues, are all major life decisions with significant consequences and impacts on your life. None of these decisions should be taken lightly, simply because the Florida family law forms are there for the taking. As I often tell my clients, going to a lawyer is a lot like going to a doctor. You hope for the best news, but sometimes, it’s a complicated and nerve wracking diagnosis. If you had a broken leg, you’d go to the doctor; you wouldn’t pull out your kids’ art supplies and make a cast on the kitchen counter. One slip of the knife, and you’ve got an infection and an eventual amputation! So why would you undertake complex legal work that could have an equally devastating effect on your family?
Unlike a black and white form that can’t speak, I’m here to help solve your legal problems, and I will never pass judgement on you or your family’s circumstances, no matter how unusual or embarrassing you think the situation is. So before you go burying yourself in a frustrating pile of paper, give me a call for a free consultation.