I'm considering getting a divorce. What should I know, and will I need an attorney? What you should know depends on the facts of your case. Most divorce cases can be broken down into 3 main issues: child-related issues, asset and liability division, and alimony. This is a very general list, and each of these three categories can be extremely complicated. Child-related issues on its own has three sub-parts: parental responsibility (decision making), timesharing, and child support.
It is normal to research on the internet, and read blogs like this one to gain as much information as possible. However, as we all know, not everything written on the intent it true; laws also vary state by state. What you read on one website may be accurate for the state for which it was written, but may be incorrect for divorce cases in Florida. The most effective way to obtain a general overview of what you will need to know for your specific case is to meet with an attorney who specializes in the area of family law, as they will be able to review your case facts and give you advice on how to proceed.
Most people who are considering divorce feel overwhelmed, and are unsure of what the first step is. Some people choose to navigate the waters of the court system on their own, as self-represented litigants. There are forms available for free online, or for purchase a most clerk's offices, but unless you know exactly which forms to file, it is easy to file the wrong form, and this error will not be caught by anyone until it might be too late. This is a common mistake, and one that seems innocent, but also one that can have a large negative impact on you case.
If a pleading has been filed with the court system, and some type of relief has been requested, the next step is to make sure the other person is served. Once served, depending on the type of pleading, the other person might have to reply. If a response is necessary, once that response has been filed, it is not easy to change what you initially asked for. So while filing the wrong paperwork seems like an innocent mistake, it has the potential to delay or stall your case. Some judges are more sympathetic than others, and will allow amendments to incorrect pleadings, but filing what might be the proper form, hoping that you can fix it later, is never a good idea.
Aside from obtaining legal advice regarding how to initiate a case and which documents are required, there are strict deadlines for discovery that must be adhered to in family law cases. Without an attorney, it is not always easy to ensure that you are in full compliance with the rules that set forth these deadlines. At some point in your case, you will attend a mediation conference. At this conference, the goal will be to settle the case. If your spouse is represented by an attorney, you will be at a disadvantage if you are not also represented.
Mediators cannot and will not provide legal advice, which may leave an unrepresented party with questions, and hesitation to enter into an agreement. Having an attorney with you is beneficial, as that person can guide you as you make decisions, explaining both the law and the likelihood of a certain outcome should your case go to trial.
While it is not impossible to proceed through a divorce case without an attorney, the more complicated your case, the greater the benefit of being represented by a family law attorney who can guide you, offering both legal and practical advice along the way. Consulting with an attorney to outline the issues in your case and to obtain some basic knowledge about the laws surrounding divorce is a good place to start.