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DIY Divorce in Florida: Understanding Pro Se Representation

Date Posted: April 19, 2023 12:57 am

DIY Divorce in Florida: Understanding Pro Se Representation

Divorce is never easy. Separating couples go through one of the most challenging periods of their lives, experiencing emotional and financial turmoil. Ending marriage takes a toll on other family members, especially children, leaving them with deep emotional scars for the rest of their lives. 

In Florida, the court does allow divorcing couples to file for a Dissolution of Marriage without the requirement of hiring legal counsel.  It can be an intimidating process if spouses decide to navigate the complex legal system without professional representation.

In Florida, divorce rates are falling. Compared to 1990, when there were 6.3 divorces per 1000 inhabitants, approximately 3.6 divorces per 1000 residents occurred in 2020. However, the statistics are still high. Regarding divorce rates, Florida ranks among the top ten states in the United States (2.3 divorces for 1000 couples).

Although divorcing without legal representation can be challenging, over 70% of couples opted for a pro se divorce in 2020. That is a modest increase compared to 1999 (66% of pro se litigants), but it shows an upward trend in DIY divorces.  The reasons for choosing to Do-It-Yourself can be based on economics, a lack of assets to argue about, or the fact that the couple can reasonably develop a fair outcome themselves.

Do It Yourself – What Is a Pro Se Divorce?

A pro se divorce, also known as DIY (do it yourself) divorce, is a process in which parties represent themselves in court. In other words, the divorcing couple goes through the proceedings without professional legal representation, paying their own court fees, and filling out and filing the paperwork alone.

When Should You Consider Representing Yourself in Divorce?

In general, a pro se representation is possible in all divorce cases. However, some are more suitable for the DIY approach than others. To reap the full benefits of representing yourself in court (lower costs, time-effectiveness, and a more straightforward process), check out below when you should consider pro se divorce:

  • Shorter marriages. Couples living together for shorter periods are more suitable for a pro se divorce. People in more temporary marriages do not usually entangle their destinies as profoundly as in decades-long matrimonies. In most cases, no children are involved, and there are little or no assets and liabilities to divide.
  • Marriages with no marital property. If you and your spouse have not acquired property during the marriage or have little marital property, then your marriage is suitable for a DIY divorce. On the other hand, complex assets and high net-worth property complicate matters, requiring professional legal representation. Florida is an equitable distribution state, meaning courts will divide property equally unless special reasons justify an unequal division. Property division is not an issue in marriages with little or no shared property, which puts pro se litigants into a less challenging position.
  • Matrimonies without dependent children. Dealing with children-related issues is one of the most demanding aspects of each divorce. The most consequential decisions courts must make relate to granting child custody and determining child support. Going into the process involving children without legal representation is a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, spouses with no children or without minor or dependent children are relieved from such a burden. Simplified petition forms enable them to initiate a Florida divorce as pro se litigants.
  • No contested issues. Agreeing to all or at least to vital issues regarding divorce is a crucial pre-requisite for a pro se representation. Florida is a no-fault state, meaning that parties do not have to prove each other’s guilt (adultery or other misconduct). If the parties agree their marriage is over, and there are no other contested issues (alimony, child support, child custody, property division), navigating court proceedings without professional assistance should not be an issue.
Pro Se Divorce

Factors to Consider in Deciding Whether a Pro Se Divorce is the Best Fit

In some cases, spouses should carefully consider electing for a pro se divorce. Legal representation may be advisable in the following examples:

  • Long marriages. Spouses in long-term marriages are more likely to acquire significant assets, which (according to Florida law) belong to marital property. Retirement and social security benefits grow over time, meaning that divorcing spouses become eligible for a portion of the retirement savings accounts. Whenever money is involved, the likelihood of an uncontested divorce diminishes.
  • Minor or dependent children’s issues. Having young or dependent children is a possible concern for an uncontested (pro se) divorce. Dealing with child support, child custody, parenting plan allocation, and other related issues is the most common source of disagreements, complicating matters in a pro se divorce.
  • Spousal support or alimony. Courts in Florida consider various circumstances when granting spousal support. In most cases, alimony is a contentious court battle between spouses and their attorneys. Representing yourself can result in not obtaining the most optimal financial support.
  • Complex and high-net-worth assets. Unless you agree on all issues regarding marital property division, a pro se divorce is not for you. The agreement must cover all key property distribution aspects such as contribution to the marriage, personal careers and education, and desirability of keeping the family home. The consensus is rare when complex and high-net-worth assets are involved, so you should consider consulting with a financial professional.
  • History of domestic violence. A history of domestic violence or abuse represents an example of when a pro se divorce is not advisable. In such cases, abuse victims must prioritize their safety and seek professional legal representation.  Even with low level domestic abuse, there is a concern as to whether one person will be able to make independent decisions when in the presence of the abusive partner.

Additional Assistance for Challenging Conditions

Divorcing couples do not have to agree on all matters to benefit from choosing to follow the Pro Se Divorce option.  With the assistance of an experienced mediator, these challenges can be addressed, and a satisfactory resolution can be reached.   When examining the factors above, other professionals can assist in advising the couple as to their options.  Consultation with allied professionals can take place before developing a settlement agreement, or after the Marital Settlement has been created, and prior to signing the agreement.

  1. Financial Professionals.  When the couple has significant assets, or various categories of assets, a financial advisor can help to make sense of the tax implications and fair distribution. 
  2. Attorneys.  Knowing your legal rights and options is important when deciding how to distribute assets and debts, as well as establishing a parenting plan.   Lawyers can advise a spouse as to what they should anticipate and seek in their settlement agreement.
  3. Real Estate Agents.   When the value of the marital home, or investment real estate is being discussed, a real estate agent can offer valuable tips on the current sales market and valuation of real property.
  4. Real Estate Broker.   If the couple is planning to refinance the home, it is advisable to determine if it is possible for the spouse to qualify and how to best establish credit to ensure a successful assumption of the mortgage or refinance of the home.
  5. Alimony is a Contentious Topic.   Consulting with an attorney can aid a spouse as to what is reasonable and how to evaluate an alimony claim.  There are many options and ways to approach the need for spousal support, and mediation is the perfect venue to have this conversation.
  6. Mediator.  A skilled professional facilitator can guide the couple through difficult conversations and keep the issues focused.   More importantly, by attending a mediation session, the discussion can take place at a neutral and safe location which allows for emotional topics to be examined.

Initiating DIY Divorce in Florida

To initiate a pro se divorce process in Florida, you must file: 

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with your county court. It is sufficient to assert that the marriage is ‘irretrievably broken” wiithout the need to provide reasons as to why the couple is divorcing since Florida is a no-fault state. The central part of the Petition is requesting the court to grant the divorce.
  • Simplified Dissolution of Marriage is available if you can agree on all issues.
  • If no children or property are involved, you can submit a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with No Dependent or Minor Children or Property.
  • When spouses have shared property but no dependent children, they can file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Property but No Minor Children.
  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Minor Children is the appropriate form when there are minor or dependent children of the marriage (it must have a notary form).

The next step is serving your spouse with a copy of the Petition (unless you filed the Marital Settlement Agreement). After your spouse responds to a petition, the court will schedule a hearing to confirm your consent and finalize the divorce. A judge grants the divorce after ensuring the agreement is fair and equitable.  Final Hearings for Dissolution of Marriage can take place as quickly as two weeks if the divorce is uncontested with no issues for the Judge to address.  A request to have a name change can also take place at the Final Hearing.

Benefits of Pro Se Divorce Mediation

Agreeing on most divorce-related issues is important to the success of a pro se divorce. The uncontested nature of DIY divorces makes them ideal candidates for divorce mediation.

Mediation is a good alternative for spouses who do not agree on all issues but are open to negotiations with the help of a neutral facilitator.

Divorce mediation is a voluntary process in which spouses agree to discuss their case with an experienced and neutral third person called the mediator. Mediators are typically former judges, attorneys, or other professionals (psychologists, marriage coaches, social workers) who are familiar with the issues raised in divorce and in family dynamics.

Without having decision-making authority, the mediator facilitates negotiations between the spouses, motivating them to settle the dispute. If the parties can agree to the terms of the Dissolution of Marriage, a mediator prepares a jointly agreed-upon Mediated Settlement Agreement and (after spouses sign it) submits it to the court. Mediators can also assist the participants to fill out court forms that the pro se litigants will need to file with the court.  The Mediator does not act as an advocate for the interests of either person, and also does not serve as a legal advisor in creating legal documents, other then the mediated settlement agreement.

As an out-of-court process, mediation offers many benefits litigation lacks. The process is time and cost-effective, less stressful, and more efficient. Although uncontested divorce litigation differs from a contested process, mediation offers additional advantages. The approach is future-oriented, focusing on continued amicable relations and developing effective co-parenting skills. Sessions are flexible and confidential, enabling the spouses to freely express their emotions, informally exchange material information, and encouraging candor about all issues central to their relationship.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Divorce rates in Florida are decreasing, but the share of pro se litigants in family matters is rising.
  • A pro se divorce is a process in which spouses represent themselves in court.
  • You should consider the DIY divorce if your marriage is short, with little or no marital property, no minor or dependent children, and no contested issues.
  • A pro se divorce is challenging for long-term marriages with dependent children, complex marital assets, and a history of domestic violence or abuse.  A Family Mediator can assist pro se parties to address these challenges and develop a Parenting Plan and Marital Settlement Agreement.
  • Spouses representing themselves can initiate the divorce process in Florida by filing out and filing appropriate petitions. The approach is practical and straightforward.
  • Mediation is suitable for spouses who do not agree on all divorce-related issues but are open to discussion.
  • Mediation offers countless benefits for divorcing couples over traditional litigation. The mediator helps parties negotiate through a potential dispute and drafts the settlement agreement.

A Compassionate Approach To Your Divorce Issues

As a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family mediator, Kim Torres has over 23 years of experience settling divorce disputes and creating Parenting Plans for families.

Knowing how little it takes for you and your spouse to disagree on critical issues, Mrs. Torres will guide you through the relevant topics, consider your objectives and allow you to negotiate through the remaining disagreements. Settling family issues neutrally but compassionately sets Kim apart from the competition.

Kim Torres serves clients on the Space Coast  and Treasure Coast of Florida. Do not hesitate to contact us today at (321) 821-9995 or email us at kim@FLMpro.com to schedule your appointment.