There are two separate agencies that assist people seeking to file papers in Family Division cases. They have different jobs.
The Clerk’s Office: This is where you go to pick up forms and file papers.
The Court: In family cases that do not involve Child Support Enforcement, the court uses Case Managers to assist persons without lawyers. Case Managers are not lawyers but are trained to review your papers for completeness. They also set hearings on the judge’s and magistrate’s calendar.
Things you need to know before filing legal papers:
- Case Managers and employees of the Clerk of Court’s Office cannot give legal advice or help you fill out forms. Please don’t ask.
- 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. Take time to thoroughly read and understand them before filing legal papers. You must read and understand the applicable rules of procedure that apply in your case and you must be familiar with the controlling legal principles. It is YOUR job to find out what these are. Your rights could be seriously jeopardized if you commit legal malpractice in your own case. Consider consulting with an attorney who is a member of The Florida Bar.
- It is YOUR responsibility to select the right forms and to properly complete them. Individual forms and packages of forms for certain types of proceedings are available from the Clerk for a fee. Forms also may be obtained on line at www.flcourts.org, and the Pro Se Forms Page.
- If you need help completing forms, you may seek the help of friends, visit a lawyer, or hire a paralegal. Paralegals are listed in the Yellow Pages of the phone book.
- If you believe you have selected the correct papers to file with the Clerk, you may do so. However, if you have chosen the wrong papers or they are incomplete, your case may be dismissed or delayed. Take the time to do it right. No action will be taken on your case until the correct papers are provided.
- The law requires certain petitions and motions to be served on the opposing party by use of a process server. Failure to do so may prevent your case from going forward. YOU must determine when personal service of a paper is required. The clerk will refer you to the form (called a summons) which must accompany petitions and motions which are required to be served on a party.
- Remember, all motions and many other legal documents must contain a certificate of service showing copies sent to the opposing parties or their attorney.
- If you are defending a case, failure to file the correct response with the clerk may result in a default which can keep you from contesting the matter in the future - forever.
- Your case may be assigned to a Self Help Case Manager. They work for the judge not the Clerk. They may assist you in getting a hearing or trial date. They may direct you to sources for forms, but finding the correct form, completing it, getting it to the Clerk, and obtaining service of process on the opposing party is YOUR responsibility. Case Managers do not provide forms. If you need to contact a Case Manager, you may do so using a form called a Form A that is available from the Clerk and the Court’s website. The Case Manager will not contact you until you file a Form A. You usually will receive a response in writing within 15 business days.
- Case Managers screen all out-of-court communications between you and the judge. Judges may not see your letters, notes, e-mails or phone messages if they do not meet legal standards or if they contain inappropriate information. Case Managers will make every effort to answer important questions about your case. However, due to large number of inquiries, not all requests for information can be answered by Case Managers.
- Make sure you can live with the consequences of litigation! If you are starting a proceeding, be aware the opposing side may respond by asking the court to take action you do not like. Sometimes persons representing themselves receive the exact opposite result they desire. Depending on the type of petition or motion you file, in a Family Division case the court may order you to pay for the other side’s attorney fees and court costs whether you win OR lose.
- Failure to appear in court for a hearing or trial may result in the other side getting whatever they request, including dismissal of the action or a default against the defending party. If you receive a summons or notice of hearing do not ignore them.
- YOUR CASE IS AN OPEN BOOK. With few exceptions, all papers filed for or against you in a Florida court are public record. They may be examined by members of the public, prospective employers and the press. Papers sent to the judge are filed in the clerk’s public record case file.
- THERE ARE NO WARRANTIES GIVEN AS TO FORMS: There are no warranties expressed or implied in regard to forms supplied by the Clerk of Court. They are only examples. They may or may not be suitable for the facts of your particular case. Use them at your own risk. They must be modified to fit your unique situation. The fact that the clerk provided you the basic form will not be a defense if what you file is wrong