Now that your mediation conference is over, you may have questions such as, “What do I do with this agreement? How do I get a divorce or an order from the court? Is my agreement enforceable by the court? But we didn’t reach an agreement, now what? What steps do I take next?”…
The Citizen Dispute Settlement Program is not a self-help legal clinic, and neither the mediator nor program staff can give you legal advice. The following information is to assist in answering some of your questions, but it is not intended to be a substitution for professional legal advice.
Whether you reached an agreement in prefiling mediation or not, you may decide that it is time to formally file a case in the Family Court. If you reached an agreement in prefiling family mediation concerning all or some of your family matters, you may now file your mediated agreement with the Clerk of Court, along with the other legal paperwork required to open a family case. An agreement signed by both parties is in essence a “contract” between the parties, indicating a willingness to be bound by that agreement. But it is not enforceable by the court until a court file is officially opened giving the court jurisdiction over your case.
By submitting your agreement to the court, you and the other party are indicating that these issues have already been decided by you, the parties, and that they are not issues you want the court to determine. The thoroughness of your agreement could be the difference in filing a “contested” or “uncontested” matter and could have a substantial effect on the amount of time and money it may take to litigate your case from beginning to end. Regardless of whether you have an agreement, the 12th Judicial Circuit offers “pro se” litigants assistance in navigating the family court system from filing a case to its conclusion- obtaining an enforceable Final Judgment from the court.
Legal matters can be very complex; therefore, it is always recommended that you seek the advice of an attorney. Sometimes hiring an attorney is not possible and individuals may decide to represent themselves. Individuals who choose to represent themselves in court are referred to as pro se litigants. The 12th Judicial Circuit offers a self-help service for pro se litigants referred to as the “Self-Help (Pro Se) Program.” The program is staffed by case managers who work for the court. They assist pro se litigants by reviewing case files, setting hearing time, and providing procedural assistance in family cases such as dissolution of marriage, paternity, name change, child support, parental responsibility, time-sharing and certain adoptions.
It is important for pro se litigants to understand that the Self-Help Program employees are not lawyers, and by order of the Florida Supreme Court they are not allowed to give legal advice or fill out forms for you. They are only permitted to assist you in navigating the family court system. You must decide for yourself what forms are appropriate for your case to file. Most family law forms for common proceedings are:
There are forms for litigants initiating as well as responding to a family law case. Cases are started by a person filing a proper pleading with the Clerk of Court. An individual responding to a case must file a response or “answer” with the same Clerk of Court. Failure to respond after being served papers or failure to appear after being notified of a hearing can result in serious consequences.
Once the litigant selects and completes the proper forms, the original documents must be filed with the Clerk of the Court. Do not send any original documents to the Self-Help Office. You should always keep a copy of your paperwork. Litigants who wish to receive Self-Help services must contact the program by filing a Self-Help referral form called a Family Form A with the Clerk. This form indicates what services you are seeking. For example, you may request a file review, a case management conference, a final hearing, a case status update, etc. You will normally receive a response from the Self-Help Office within 15 business days, usually by mail.
Remember, when you act as your own lawyer, you are held to the same standards as an attorney. Many petitions and forms come with detailed instructions. Read and understand them before completing and filing any paperwork. Additionally, pro se litigants are responsible for presenting their own case in court, making sure essential witnesses attend and organizing the case so that it can be finished by both sides within the allotted time. You must understand the applicable rules of procedure that apply in your case and be familiar with the controlling legal principles. It is your job to find out what these are. Seriously consider consulting with a member of The Florida Bar.
The Self-Help Office only provides case management services for Non Child Support Enforcement Family Division matters. Common Child Support Enforcement motions and pleadings can be found on the this website, in the Respondent's Book, or at the Clerk of Court.
One or more of the organizations or websites listed below may be able to help you with your family proceeding. For more Community and State Resources, visit the Family Division Information page.
Clerk of Court Offices located in the 12th Judicial Circuit