The pitfalls of do-it-yourself divorces in Florida

In a marriage where irreconcilable differences develop, divorce may be the only solution. When children are involved the matter may get complicated with child custody and visitation issues. Getting expert legal advice is advisable, but some people facing divorces may not have the resources to hire an attorney.

In fact, Florida has seen an increase in do-it-yourself divorces. In more than 50 percent of family law cases in Sarasota and Manatee counties, people are pro se, or representing themselves. However, in pro se divorces, the parties may not necessarily understand the process and they may make bad deals. When it comes to child custody and visitation issues, more and more pro se parties are making agreements between themselves and working out a schedule. But it is not easy. They may not come to an agreement or they may be denied access to their children by the parent with primary custody. Nevertheless, do-it-yourself divorces are on the rise.

The exact data on the number of do-it-yourself divorces is not available because it is a fairly new development driven by economic factors. Data collected by the above counties show that at least one party was pro se in about 55 percent of divorces. This imbalance, where one party is represented and the other is not, may lead to a unfavorable result for the pro se party. Further, emotions run high during family court matters, particularly when it comes to children, and having a full understanding of what being agreed to can have a lasting effect not only on the parents involved but also the children.

A pro se North Port man has been in court for two years trying to see his son. In his case, the mother relocated to another state and cut him off completely. He wants visitation rights and wants to pay child support, but his request for a hearing was denied. He appealed the decision and will get a hearing, but he has not had an opportunity to see his son.

In child custody and visitation cases parents should set aside their differences and work in the best interest of their children. In certain circumstances, such as domestic abuse, visitation may not be granted or may be granted only under supervised conditions. But, in general, it is important for the parties to foster a healthy relationship for the growth and development of their child.

Source: Herald-Tribune, "Courts seeing more do-it-yourself divorces," Robert Eckhart, Sept. 9, 2012

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