This guide is a broad overview of some basic principles that will help the pro se (self-represented) party in a divorce case.
What if I don't want to get divorced?
In Florida, as with many states, the only needed legal ground for divorce is irreconcilable differences. Basically, if your spouse wants to get a divorce, then it will happen eventually. You can request that the judge order you and your spouse to counseling, but this is a fairly rare occurrence. Of course, nothing prevents you and your spouse from voluntarily going to couples counseling or marriage therapy. If it appears that a divorce is inevitable, then seek out those whom you trust to support you during the transition.
Will someone be sending me a letter or notice about what to do next?
Not really. Attorneys and pro se spouses are basically held to the same standard, meaning that you're expected to know how the process works. If you decide to continue to represent yourself you're going to need to do your homework to understand what's expected of you and the deadlines involved. If your spouse has an attorney and you choose to go it alone, you need to know that you're very likely at a disadvantage on many levels.
What is the process like?
It varies by where you live, but in very general terms, the progression is:
1) You are served.
2) You have 20 days to file a response, possibly with a counter-petition.
3) You both file financial disclosure.
4) You attend mediation.
5) If a settlement is reached, the spouse who filed for divorce must attend the final hearing.
6) If there is no settlement, you have a trial.
This is a very, very generalized outline aimed only at giving a broad overview of the process.
What about our children? What about our house, and all our assets and debts?
Unless you and your spouse agree on how to handle all these things, a judge will have to make the decisions for you. Each judge has a different caseload, different background, and different personality. Most judges prefer that spouses are able to work out these issues on their own rather than forcing the court to make decisions about a family it doesn't know all that well.
My spouse's attorney is really friendly or is a jerk. How should I deal with him/her?
Regardless of how your spouse's attorney communicates with you, their job is to zealously advocate for their client. Don't forget that underlying principle. That's not to say that they will do anything in their power to "win" the case, but you need to be aware that their job is not to guide you through the legal process. If you absolutely can't afford an attorney during the litigation process, if at all possible you should have an attorney review any settlement agreement before you sign.
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