Pro Se Representation

This information is for pro se litigants who wish to represent themselves in a family law case. What this means is that you are either the petitioner or the respondent in a case and do not have a lawyer.

You are encouraged to consult with a lawyer before proceeding further. Family law is a very complex area of the law. There are hundreds of volumes of case law which have been published by the appellate courts of Florida, as well as statutes and court rules, including rules of evidence. You will be expected to know and follow these laws and rules of procedure as your case moves through the system. The law does not require that you have a lawyer, but advice from and representation by a trained lawyer can save valuable time and eliminate unnecessary frustration.

If you decide to continue to represent yourself, your primary contacts, before actually appearing in court before a judge, will be deputy clerks of court and the court’s SelfHelp Program Family Division Case Manager.

The Clerk of the Circuit Court receives and processes pleadings and other papers submitted for filing by litigants. The Clerk also receives filing fees which litigants are required to pay when opening a case.

The Twelfth Judicial Circuit has established a Family Law Self-Help program to assist you in navigating your way through the court process. The program has coordinators called Family Division Case Managers. A case manager’s job is to make sure the court system is used effectively and efficiently; to make sure the judges receive the information that is necessary to make a ruling; and to make sure that litigants are aware of the requirements for proceeding in court.

Examples of ways that the case manager can be of assistance to a self-represented litigant are:

  • Responding to questions about the Self-Help Program,
  • Explaining the court system and local procedures,
  • Identifying documents that are required to be in the court file,
  • Reviewing the court’s file to make certain that all the proper forms and required documents are in the file,
  • Notifying the parties when additional information or completed forms are needed before the case can be set for a hearing or trial,
  • Making referrals to court programs and community agencies, and
  • Scheduling hearings.

Rules regulating the practice of law prohibit non-lawyers from giving you legal advice. Canons of judicial ethics prohibit judges from giving you legal advice. For these reasons, no court officials - including the judge, the judge’s staff, the self-help case manager, officers of the Sheriff’s Department, the Clerk of the Circuit Court or any of the clerk’s staff -are permitted to represent you, give you legal advice, fill out your forms or tell you what to write in the forms. In fact, no court official is permitted to advise you which forms or pleadings are appropriate to address the issues you want to have the court consider and decide. These matters are your sole responsibility.

Please read the following information about self representation carefully:

  1. First, you may represent yourself in a family law case. However, court personnel are not permitted to advise you how to do this.
  2. Next, you must fully complete your forms and other papers.
  3. It is your sole responsibility to properly serve pleadings and other papers on the other party or parties. You must determine who the parties to your case are and therefore who must be served. It is your sole responsibility to determine the appropriate manner for service of a particular pleading or paper and to see that respondent is properly served. Court personnel are not permitted to give you advice on these matters.
  4. It is your sole responsibility to see that all pleadings and other papers are signed by the appropriate persons. Court personnel are not permitted to do this for you.
  5. Court personnel are not permitted to advise you what to ask for with respect to your children; how to establish or enforce a parenting plan; how to establish or collect child support; how to modify child support; how to prevent the removal of your children from the state of Florida; how to get permission to relocate with your children from the state of Florida; or what to do after your name is changed. You are required to determine on your own what your legal remedies are and to file the pleadings necessary to have the court consider the issues you want heard.
  6. It is your sole responsibility to determine the proper forms to use; to read and understand the instructions that come with the forms; to make copies of pleadings and papers as necessary; to complete all forms that you use; to listen to and follow all instructions given you by the clerk’s staff and/or the self-help case manager; and when you file forms, pleadings and papers, to make certain they are in proper order.
  7. It is your sole responsibility to determine what action you should take at various stages of a case. For instance, if you have filed a petition or supplemental petition, and your spouse or former spouse has responded, you must determine on your own what action, if any, you should take next.
  8. You must file a completed, signed, notarized financial affidavit. This is a rule of court. If you do not comply with this rule, you will be sanctioned. Sanctions can include, but are not limited to the court refusing to hear your case; the court imposing a monetary fine against you; the court striking your pleadings and dismissing your case.
  9. If child support is an issue, you must complete a child support guideline worksheet. This is true even if you come to an agreement with the other party about the child support issues. This is a court rule. You must comply before the court will rule on the issue of child support. As with financial affidavits, appropriate sanctions can be imposed against you.
  10. Generally, the court prefers that both parties be present for all hearings and trials. In any event, unless notice of hearing or trial is waived by the other party, you must give the other party appropriate notice of the hearing or trial. If you are noticed for trial and do not appear, you run the risk of having sanctions imposed against you.
  11. Incomplete forms and unsigned Marital Settlement Agreements will not be accepted by the judge. Again, it is your sole responsibility to complete and sign all forms, and if required, have the forms notarized.
  12. If minor children are an issue in the case, you must file the Minor Child Questionnaire, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act affidavit and the Notice of Social Security Number.
  13. If you or your spouse are seeking a divorce and have minor children, or if you or the other party are trying to establish the paternity of a child, you must attend a seminar for divorcing parents. If you fail to do so sanctions will be imposed against you.
  14. Family law requires the court to order a parenting plan in proceedings involving children. A parenting plan is a document created to govern the relationship between the parties relating to the decisions that must be made regarding the minor child. It must contain a detailed time-sharing schedule for the parents and the child. The parenting plan may include issues concerning the child such as the child’s education, health care, social, physical, and emotional well-being. The parenting plan may be developed or agreed to by the parents, or a plan may be recommended by a court appointed mental health professional. Any parenting plan agreed to by the parties or recommended by a professional must be approved by the court. If the parents cannot agree, the parenting plan will be established by the court. The Court has approved four Parenting Plans for use in the 12th Judicial Circuit. Those plans can be obtained on the Parenting Plans Page, or at the Clerk’s Office.
  15. You may not bring your minor children to court with you unless you have obtained the prior consent of the judge to do so.

Instructions for Pro Se Litigants in Family Law Cases

  1. The first step to take in representing yourself in a family law action is to read the form packet thoroughly.
  2. After reading the form packet, determine which forms you need to fill out. If you require additional forms which are not available in the form packet, contact your circuit Clerk’s Office, county law library or check online at www.flcourts.org. If you choose to represent yourself, it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to determine which forms you need to file.
  3. On each document fill in your heading according to the following format substituting the county in which you are filing.

    IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE TWELFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT IN AND FOR ___________ COUNTY, FLORIDA

    For example, litigants filing in Manatee County would enter the following header

    IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE TWELFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT IN AND FOR MANATEE COUNTY, FLORIDA

  4. File the required forms with the Office of the Clerk of Court in your county.
  5. Attend the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Seminar if you have been ordered by the Court to do so.
  6. If your case involves children, and your packet includes the document Instructions and Assessments for Your Parenting Plan, complete the assessment to determine which parenting plan may be right for your family. Purchase the appropriate Parenting Plan from the Clerk of Court, or download the plan from the 12th Judicial Circuit’s website at www.jud12.flcourts.org. Before you fill in any part of the Parenting Plan, you should make a copy of the blank form. Save this copy for when you are ready to fill out a final version to file with the Court. If the court refers your case to mediation, be sure to review and complete a draft of the Parenting Plan prior to attending mediation. Once your proposed Parenting Plan is complete, provide the other party with a copy of the Parenting Plan.
  7. After you have filed all of the required forms, wait at least three business days before you request a hearing. All required documents must be in the court file before a final MAS 7/08 2 hearing may be scheduled. When you call the Family Division Case Manager, in your county, listen very carefully to the voice instructions and leave the required information. If you require assistance from the Case Manager, you must file a request form called a Form A with the clerk’s office. The Form A is also available at the clerk’s office. Once your file is reviewed, you will be contacted by MAIL regarding your hearing date. You will not receive a return phone call unless the Case Manager has a question regarding your file that must be immediately addressed. (If your case involves Child Support Enforcement/Department of Revenue, do not file a form A. You must file a Form C to request a hearing in a Child Support Enforcement matter.)

    Family Division Case Manager Message Lines:

    Sarasota: (941) 861- 4890

    South County (Venice): (941) 861- 3017

    Manatee County Division III: (941)749- 3600 x 7052

    Manatee County Division IV: (941) 749- 3600 x 7053

    DeSoto County: (863) 993- 4639

  8. When completing the Summons form or the Notice of Action, the address for the Clerk of Court must be inserted:

    Manatee County:
    P.O 25400, BRADENTON, FL 34206 or
    1115 MANATEE AVENUE WEST,
    BRADENTON, FL 34205
    Sarasota County:
    P.O. BOX 3079,
    SARASOTA, FL 34230 or
    2000 MAIN STREET,
    SARASOTA, FL 34237
    DeSoto County:
    115 EAST OAK STREET,
    ROOM 104,
    ARCADIA, FL 34266
  9. The Family Division Case Manager will mail you a letter either telling you what additional documents you must file to ready your case for a final hearing, or a notice confirming your court date and telling you what you must bring to the final hearing. READ ALL OF THE MATERIALS GIVEN TO YOU AND PAY ATTENTION TO ALL OF THE INSTRUCTIONS!
  10. When you attend your final hearing, you should dress appropriately. If you are inappropriately dressed, you could be sent away!
  11. Be aware that if there are any errors in your paperwork, you may not get your final judgment on the date you have set for your hearing. Remember, it is your responsibility to read the instructions thoroughly and properly complete the required paperwork.
  12. Neither the Family Division Case Managers, Judicial Assistants, nor the Clerk’s Office personnel can give you legal advice. If you have any questions or concerns about your legal rights and obligations, or if you feel uncomfortable representing yourself, you are strongly advised to seek help from an attorney.

If you are a person with a disability who needs any accommodation in order to participate in this proceeding, you are entitled, at no cost to you, to the provision of certain assistance. Please contact the Jury Office in your County.

Manatee County: P.O. Box 25400, Bradenton, Florida, 34206, (941) 741-4062. If you are hearing or voice impaired, call 771.

Sarasota County: P.O. Box 3079, Sarasota, Florida, 34230-3079, (941) 861-7400. If you are hearing or voice impaired, call 771.

DeSoto County: 115 East Oak Street, Arcadia, Florida, 34266, (863) 993-4876. If you are hearing or voice impaired, call 771.