General

Yes, but all letters, email or other written communications sent to a judge should be filed with the clerk and provided to the attorneys or litigants, and could become public record. All written material sent to the judge is screened by the JA. The judge may never see it, depending on the content and rules established by the judge. . Case numbers are available from the clerk of court.

Judges are not allowed to talk directly with litigants, witnesses, friends, or family members of litigants about a pending case or a disputed matter that might lead to litigation. Ethical rules require judges to have both sides of a dispute present, with their lawyers, before he or she is permitted to discuss a matter in litigation or a matter which might be litigated.

Judicial Assistants are not lawyers and cannot give legal advice. By law they cannot recommend lawyers or advise a person on how to handle a case. They do not have the authority to approve requests to continue a matter or to excuse a court appearance, only a judge can do that. The claim that the “Judicial Assistant told me to do it” is not an acceptable defense.

Dockets that change frequently (daily) are not posted due to the numerous changes that take place. Other dockets with planned trials/hearings/etc are posted and periodically updated by the Judicial Assistant for that specific judge.

Administrative orders are provided on the web in PDF format and may be printed from the web.

Most publications are in PDF format and can be printed from the web. If not, contact the webmaster (link on most pages) and he/she will follow-up on your request.

The courthouse is open to the public from 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM Monday thru Friday (later if there is a trial in session). Each Court Program may have different hours of operation and you can verify these hours by visiting the Court Programs web page link under General Information on our home page that gives you an overview of that department.

Visit the Clerk of Court Website for information on records & fees:

Hearings

  • Notice of Hearing
  • Motion
  • Supporting document copies
  • Proposed order
  • Legal Authority (e.g. case law supporting your position)

Contact the clerk's office in DeSoto County (863) 993-4876, in Manatee County (941) 749-1800 or in Sarasota County (941) 861-7400.

All judges rotate divisions every one to two years or so and do not normally keep cases from one division when they move to another. On occasion a judge may be required to swap cases with another judge because of ethical considerations, or because other judges may need backup or assistance.

If you have an attorney, he or she must file a motion asking the judge for a continuance. Persons without an attorney may write the judge a letter in advance requesting a change and giving the reasons. Requests may be faxed only when short notice, urgent or emergency situations exist. A copy of the request must be sent in writing to the opposing party. [In a criminal case, the opposing party is the local Office of the State Attorney.] Failure to show copies sent to the opposing party is grounds for denying the request on its face. There must be good cause, such as a verifiable emergency, for a continuance to be granted. Some judges may rule on a motion for continuance based solely on what the judge sees in the motion. Other judges may require the moving party to schedule, through the judge’s office, a hearing on the continuance request. If a hearing is granted, you should appear in person at the hearing when scheduled. If the motion to continue is denied and you fail to appear, there may be serious legal consequences. What you think is a good excuse may not be a legal one in the judge's opinion, and it is the judge's opinion that is determinative. ALWAYS INCLUDE THE CASE NUMBER ON WRITTEN COMMUNICATIONS TO A JUDGE WITH A RETURN ADDRESS & PHONE NUMBER. Case numbers are available from the clerk of court.

PRIOR TO ATTEMPTING TO SCHEDULE A TELEPHONIC HEARING ATTORNEYS ARE ENCOURAGED TO CONFIRM THE JUDGE’S POLICY BY CONTACTING THE RESPECTIVE JUDICIAL ASSISTANT.

As a general rule, attorneys may be permitted to appear by telephone if the hearings are 15 minutes or less and are non-evidentiary in nature. The Notice of Hearing must reflect that this is a telephonic hearing, indicate which attorney(s) will be appearing by telephone, and the phone number to be called collect. The court will make one attempt to call. If the call is rejected for any reason, or the recipient is not immediately available, the hearing may be cancelled or may proceed without the absent party’s participation.

All telephonic hearings are initiated from the Courtroom. A collect call is placed to one number, or a call is placed to one toll free number.

Litigants requesting an emergency hearing are required first to call the judge’s office to alert the Judicial Assistant that an emergency motion is being filed and to confirm the FAX number. Then the attorney is required to FAX a copy of the motion or pleading to the judge. The request will not be considered until a written motion or pleading is received. Time permitting, the original pleading should be filed with the clerk who will assign a case number, if it is a new case. The judicial assistant will present the documents to the judge at the first available opportunity. The judge will review the papers and decide if they support advancing the matter on an emergency calendar. IF A HEARING IS GRANTED AND A DATE SET, THE MOVANT IS REQUIRED TO GIVE NOTICE TO THE OPPOSING SIDE IN THE MANNER MOST LIKELY TO GIVE ACTUAL NOTICE, UNLESS NOTICE IS EXCUSED BY LAW. Failure to give timely notice to the other side may be grounds for denial of relief. Emergency hearings may be set before or after normal business hours, or during the time normally reserved for noon recess.

Hearings or trials before a judge in the criminal and juvenile courts are recorded either electronically or by court reporters. There is no charge. However, litigants in CIVIL cases (including Family Division cases) who want their proceedings recorded, are responsible for hiring their own court reporters to attend hearings or trials. Private court reporters are listed in the yellow pages of the phone book. Most require non-lawyers to pay all or part of the anticipated expenses up front. It may be difficult to appeal an adverse ruling in a civil case unless you hire a private court reporter to attend the hearing or trial to prepare a certified transcript. The court is under no obligation to provide court reporters in civil cases even where the litigants are indigent.

In an effort to help reduce inconvenience to witnesses and the expense of litigation, the Court Administration Office can facilitate receiving remote testimony using high-speed transmission lines. It is technically possible to transmit live testimony to television sets located in courtrooms at the main courthouse from many locations, even outside the U.S. The service can be used for jury or non-jury cases, and hearings. This takes careful advance planning and may depend on the facilities where the remote witness is located. Litigants seeking to use this service should file a motion with the court to confirm availability of the equipment and to review any legal objections to the procedure.

Visit the Florida Bar Attorney Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) for more information.The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service can be reached at 1-800-342-8011 or 1-800-342-8060 extension 5844.

The answer depends upon whether the attorney is hired by you or court appointed.

A. IF YOU HIRED YOUR OWN ATTORNEY: First, you should write the attorney a letter outlining your complaints and request an appointment to discuss the matter. If that does not resolve the problem, with court approval, you may hire a substitute attorney. However, hiring a new lawyer does not necessarily mean a trial date will be re-scheduled. The new lawyer may have to prepare quickly for trial because many judges do not consider hiring of a new attorney late in the case and close to trial as good cause to continue the case. Therefore, if you are going to hire a different lawyer, do so early in the case not later. You can find more information on the attorney processes at the Florida Bar Attorney Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) for more information. Or you can call the Bar's ACAP office at (866) 352-0707 or (850) 561-5673.

B. IF YOU HAVE A COURT APPOINTED ATTORNEY: First, you should write the attorney a letter outlining your complaints and request an appointment to discuss the matter. If that does not resolve the problem, you may write the judge a letter outlining in detail the reasons you believe you are not being properly represented and ask for a hearing. After reviewing your letter, the judge may or may not allow a hearing. Some judges may decide your request based solely on the letter and enter an order accordingly, others may require a hearing. If a hearing is granted, you may explain your reasons in court, after which the judge will make a decision.

All interpreter requests must be made 5 days in advance.  Please visit the Interpreters Page for more information.
If you have any further questions please contact…

  • Manatee County: (941) 749-3655
  • DeSoto County: (863) 993-4644
  • Sarasota County: (941) 861-7800

Judicial Automated Calendaring System (JACS)

Any attorney with a valid Florida bar number may access/use JACS. However, they must have their name and other information in the database prior to accessing JACS for the first time. First time users of JACS click here for instructions.

Password may have been changed/expired. Contact the JACS Coordinator through the JACS feedback form on the website and they will call you back.

Jury Duty

Jury Duty is the responsibility of the clerk of court. You can Contact the clerk's office in DeSoto County (863) 993-4876, in Manatee County (941) 749-1800 or in Sarasota County (941) 861-7400 or visit ourJuror Informationinformation page.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Please request accommodation within two working days of receipt of a notice to appear at a court proceeding. Some accommodations, such as sign language interpreters and real-time reporting, require sufficient time to schedule. Please be prepared to explain the nature of your disability and suggest an auxiliary aid or service that will enable you to effectively participate in the court program or service.

Examples are:

  • Assistive Listening devices
  • Sign Language Interpreters
  • Oral Interpreters
  • Providing Materials in Large print, Braille, Diskette, or Audio Tapes
  • Reader Services
  • Real-time transcription services

Examples are:

  • Transportation to the Courthouse
  • Legal Counsel or Advice
  • Personal Devices such as Wheelchairs or hearing aids
  • Personal services such as Medical or Attendant Care
  • Readers for personal use or study

The U.S. Department of Justice has an Information Line to call for additional information:

  • 1-800-514-0301 (voice)
  • 1-800-514-0383 (TDD

Child Support

Generally, Florida law requires all parents to support their children until age 18 or until graduation from high school if the child is performing in good faith, with the reasonable expectation of graduation prior to turning nineteen (19).. In some cases, for example, where a child is disabled or has special needs, the court may require child support beyond age 18.

Not unless both parties agree to it in writing when they divorce or agree on child support. Many parents voluntarily pay for college or vocational training past 18 but it is not a legal requirement.

No. Parents can and should agree to a child support payment schedule by written agreement. However, an agreement to waive child support is not enforceable in Florida. The court is required to consider the best interests of the children, and when necessary the court is empowered to disregard such agreements and require payment of guideline child support.

Usually free lawyers are provided to the financially distressed only in criminal cases, so most parents paying child support appear in court without attorneys. If you have tried but failed to get an attorney’s help, call the Florida Bar Referral Service at 800-342-8011. For a fee of $25.00 you can obtain a consultation with a local lawyer who practices family law. The $25.00 will cover a half-hour interview. At that time you can ask questions, talk about what papers you need to file, and get advice about how to proceed on your own should you choose to do so. But you should come to the attorney’s conference organized and prepared. There is no obligation past the 30 minute consultation, but you may be able to work out a satisfactory financial arrangement with the lawyer at that time

Come to court organized, with a completed Family Law Financial Affidavit (available from the clerk). The affidavit will show your income and itemized expenses. Bring papers that support your income and expenses, such as pay stubs, rent receipts, tax returns for the last 3 years, credit card statements and bank account statements. If you are having financial difficulties and are falling behind in payments, be prepared to explain why this has happened, and be ready to prove your case with documents or witnesses.

Child support disputes typically are resolved in open court by a judicial officer called a child support enforcement hearing officer, or a magistrate in child support cases that do not involve the DOR. The hearings are recorded on an audio disk. You and other persons may be placed under oath and asked questions by the DOR attorney. You will also be allowed to ask questions of witnesses.

Hearing officers and magistrates are experts and specialists in child support cases. In most instances the judicial officer will make a ruling while both parties are present. It will be followed by a written recommendation, a copy of which will be provided to you. A Family Law Division judge will review the judicial officer’s recommendation, after which the judge will promptly enter an approval order. Sometimes, instead of approving the recommendation, the reviewing judge finds good cause to amend the order, conduct further proceedings, or refer the matter back to the hearing officer or magistrate for another hearing. In either case you will receive by mail a copy of the recommendation and the reviewing judge’s order that follows

The fact that a party does not like the result is not enough to change a hearing officer/magistrate’s ruling. There must be good and sufficient legal reasons for the judge to set aside or amend the order approving the recommendation. The procedure, briefly, is as follows:

Two things must happen before a party can make a timely objection. First, the judicial officer has to prepare, sign and file his or her recommendation with findings of fact and conclusions of law. Second, a Family Law judge must review the recommendation, then sign and enter an order approving the decision.

Once the Family Law Division judge has entered an order approving the hearing officer or magistrate’s recommendation, either party may file a motion to vacate, or exceptions to a magistrate’s recommended order. However the motion to vacate or exceptions must be filed within 10 days of the judge’s order approving the recommendation or the right to object is lost. Either side can request a hearing on the motion, but the parent filing the motion should immediately request a hearing date. The clerk of court can advise how to obtain hearing time from the court.

The parent filing the motion must provide the judge with a record or transcript of the hearing officer or magistrate’s hearing as required by Family Law Rule of Procedure Rule 12.491(h) and comply with the time requirements set forth in the rule. Go to the circuit website home page at http://12circuit.state.fl.us where you will find a link to “Digital Court Recording.” There you will find instructions for obtaining a copy of the audio recording of your hearing.

Remember, the motion to vacate or exceptions should not be filed until the order approving the hearing officer or magistrate’s recommendation has been signed by the Family Division judge, and the motion must be filed within 10 days of the approval order. As with all motions, copies must be provided to the Department of Revenue in DOR cases and the opposing parent, or his or her attorney, if any. A Notice of Hearing (form available from the clerk) should accompany the motion.

In setting child support, Florida judges, hearing officers, and magistrates are required to use Child Support Guidelines established by the legislature. These are standard and the courts have little discretion to deviate from them. You will pay what other parents pay in similar circumstances. The Guidelines use a formula that involves the income of both parents, and which take into account expenses such as child care and health insurance. Go to http://dor.myflorida.com/dor/ where you will find a Guideline Worksheet and calculator. The following information from each parent will be necessary to ensure the best result:

  • Monthly incomes
  • Insurance Information
  • Child Care Information

Family law attorneys have computer programs and the expertise to make sophisticated, statutorily approved adjustments in child support that may be more agreeable to your financial condition. If you can’t afford an attorney for the entire case you may be able to afford one just to help with the preparation of the Guidelines Worksheet and Family Law Financial Affidavit. The Worksheet and Affidavit are important documents and are relied on by judicial officers. They are useful to get a fair result so you need to make them as accurate as possible. Financial Affidavit forms can be obtained from the clerk of court or for free at www.flcourts.org.

If you have never had child support set by a judge, hearing officer, or magistrate, nor signed an agreement for support approved by a court, a married person may ask for it in a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Petition for Support Unconnected to Divorce. Unmarried persons may ask the court to fix the amount in a Petition to Determine Paternity or a Petition for Support. Petition forms and instructions are available from the clerk or for free at www.flcourts.org. If you are served with a copy of a petition seeking support, the same website will advise what forms to use to answer. Failure to file a document called an “answer” after service of a petition can result in a default, meaning the other side gets what they want without concern for your interests.

You could be in serious trouble if you fail to keep the clerk, DOR, or the Disbursement Unit informed of your contact information and job status. U.S. mail is the approved way lawyers and the courts are required to inform you of case activity. For example, your records could reflect that you are current in your payments, but the clerk of court’s payment history may indicate you have missed some payments. DOR may take action to suspend your driver’s license for non payment or take other enforcement action. Letters, court documents and notice of subsequent hearings regarding your child support obligation will be mailed to the address in your order or to the last address you provided the court and DOR. If mail is returned undelivered, by default and by law you might be bound to court action which you may not know about, increasing your support obligation or even leading to a erroneous arrest. Bottom line: Stay in touch with the Clerk of Court in the county where your case in located, the Department of Revenue and the Florida State Disbursement Unit (if you make payments through the Disbursement Unit.)

If you are named on the birth certificate as the father, you are legally presumed to be the father. You should consult an attorney to see if paternity can be challenged. If you are not on the birth certificate and have not otherwise formally acknowledged paternity, you may contact DOR to request a DNA test which will prove or disprove that you are the father.

Do not sign any papers at the hospital when the child is born or in court confirming paternity unless you are positive you are the father. Such papers are legally binding and may be enforced even if you later discover you are not the father.

Most likely yes. Unless the mother agrees another man is the father or your paternity is disproven in court, you are the legal father and must pay support. Whether you can successfully challenge paternity and avoid paying support for a child is a complicated, fact driven issue. It can only be addressed by consultation with an attorney. Sometimes, under Florida law when a child is conceived by the wife during marriage the husband may be required to pay support for that child, even if it is likely that child is not his. CONTACT AN ATTORNEY IF THIS IS AN ISSUE WITH YOU.

The clerk in the county where your case is located has a Family Law Case History of payments. You may request a copy from the clerk and check it against your cancelled checks or payment receipts. You are responsible for keeping accurate records. In the event of dispute, it will be your burden to prove the government accounting is wrong. Additional questions may be addressed to Child Support Customer Service at 1-800-622-KIDS (5437).

Yes. The rules of parental contact are the same regardless of whether the parents are married or unmarried. Child support can not be withheld because you are prevented from sharing time with your child, or because you have no interest in being in the child’s life.

Non-payment of child support is not a legal basis for the other parent to stop your time sharing with your child. Even if you are behind in child support, you are entitled to contact with your child.

If you are being unjustifiably prevented from seeing your child and have no court approved time sharing schedule, if unmarried you may file a paternity action seeking time-sharing. If the other parent is not following a court-approved agreement, you may file a motion for contempt to enforce the agreement. The clerk of court has forms to help you with this or you can find the forms at www.flcourts.org. In any event, child support must continue to be paid.

Willful non-compliance with a support order can lead to the county jail. Before that happens, the hearing officer or magistrate may require the obligor to sell assets of value and pay the proceeds to the other parent. It is now routine for the court to enter Income Deduction Orders (known as IDOs) requiring employers to take support payments out of the paying parents’ paychecks. A person obligated to pay support may be required to get a second job, job training or additional education. DOR also has authority to enforce the court order requiring payment using any of these methods:

  • Suspend driver’s license, occupational and professional licenses, hunting and fishing licenses
  • Intercept IRS tax refunds
  • Intercept unemployment compensation and worker's compensation benefits
  • Cooperate with the court in the issuance of writs, also known as arrest warrants, which are entered into Florida's crime computer and used by law enforcement office’s statewide
  • Place liens on real property (homes or land) and personal property such as cars and boats
  • Report the debt to credit bureaus, which can affect the obligor parent's credit rating
  • Seize bank accounts by levy and garnishments

Also, support orders are enforceable by civil contempt. This means if the court finds there is an ability to pay and non-payment is willful, the court may order the obligor to be held in county jail UNTIL HE OR SHE PAYS.

In short, life can become very uncomfortable for willful non-payment of child support

If your child support is set by court order or by a written agreement officially approved by the court, to reduce it you must file a Supplemental Petition to Modify, a form available from the clerk or for free at www.flcourts.org/. However, to justify a modification the law requires you to prove there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.” The law requires the change in circumstances to be involuntary, significant, material, and permanent in nature. Examples of substantial changes are: if your income decreased such that an updated Child Support Guideline shows a 15% lower amount for your share of the support; or you lose your job and there is no reasonable expectation that you can be re-employed within the foreseeable future at substantially the same income as the job you lost.

Yes. Child support can go up or down depending on the economic circumstances of the parents. You are entitled to file a Supplemental Petition to Modify Child Support upward, in which case both parties’ income and expenses will be re-examined, and if found appropriate, your share may be reduced

NO. Here is the legal rule: Child support continues to accrue at the court-ordered amount, without reduction, until the date the paying parent files a Supplemental Petition for Modification. Once the court learns the reason for the job loss or income reduction (assuming the court finds the excuse legitimate) the magistrate has authority to reduce child support retroactive to the date the Supplemental Petition was filed. This can amount to considerable savings.

When the paying parent loses a job or becomes seriously ill or injured, child support payments do not stop. Furthermore, the court does not even have the legal authority to reduce child support during that period. The only way a paying parent can give the court authority to stop or reduce child support for any reason, including job loss, illness, or injury is to file a Supplemental Petition for Modification. The Supreme Court’s website (www.flcourts.org) has free forms and instruction for completing the Supplemental Petition and for service of process on the proper parties. Forms also are available from your local clerk of court for a fee.

If you are facing a contempt hearing and have also filed a Supplemental Petition, DOR should be contacted to see if an agreement can be reached that would allow your Supplemental Petition to be heard at the same time as the motion for contempt. DOR often will accommodate this request, depending on the circumstances of your case. Sometimes an arrangement can be reached that will eliminate the need for you to appear in court. If DOR can not agree to a joint hearing, inform the magistrate when you attend the contempt hearing that a Supplemental Petition has been filed. The court has discretion to grant a continuance if you can demonstrate good cause for the magistrate to do so. Filing of the Supplemental Petition DOES NOT excuse you from attending the contempt hearing.

REMEMBER: Without a Supplemental Petition being filed, the court has NO DISCRETION to change your child support obligation. Unfortunately, most paying parents do not know this. They attend the contempt hearing expecting the court to reduce their support payment retroactive to the date their job was lost or the injury or illness occurred. This is a big mistake because the total unpaid support pre-dating the court’s contempt or enforcement order, including all the time you were out of work, may be established as a lump sum arrearage. This can greatly increase the paying parent’s obligation.

Simply stated, filing a Supplemental Petition for Modification has the potential of stopping the clock on arrearage, or at least reducing it. It gives the paying parent a legal basis for asking the court to keep the arrearage as low as possible. This is important because by law the obligation to pay arrearage continues past the child’s 18th birthday.

Word to the wise: File your Supplemental Petition to Modify and set it for hearing as soon as you know you have suffered or are about to suffer a dramatic and extended income loss. Do this even if DOR has taken no action to enforce the order requiring payment or to hold you in contempt for non-payment. Otherwise, your support debt continues to grow daily.

This is a common situation and the courts are alert for parents attempting to evade child support obligations. If the court finds you are voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, you may be forced to pay support based not on what you actually earn, but on what you could earn, given your skills and education. This is called your “imputed income.” For example, a Registered Nurse who gets a job at minimum wage at 7-11, may be required to pay support based on a typical nurse’s salary. If you are taking money under the table for goods or services, the court may estimate what people in your trade or vocation typically make in the area where you live and order you to pay that amount, regardless of whether or not you actually earn that amount.

To avoid being held in contempt, you will be required to show you have diligently searched in good faith for the best job for which you are qualified, and if none are available, that you took the next best job. For the period a person is unemployed, the court may require able bodied parents to participate in active job searches and to regularly report their efforts to the court.

In some cases, the court may require you to undergo vocational or skills training while holding down some form of interim employment. Florida law does not allow you to quit work or be underemployed to avoid paying child support. Nor does the law give you the option of abandoning a lucrative career because you found a lesser paying job that is more fun. Your children come first and the law requires them to be supported to the best of your ability.

Yes. Your obligation to pay started when the court entered the the order requiring you to pay support,, not when your employer deducts the first payment. You should arrange with DOR to make payments in the interim. Failure to do so may subject you to contempt and create unnecessary arrearage and accounting complications.

By law, the paying parent has no control over how the child support payments are spent. However, if the child is continually not being properly cared for, fed, clothed, and housed, or the child is in danger due to the other parent’s behavior, then in a serious case there may be grounds to modify aspects of parental responsibility or time-sharing arrangements. To do this you will have to file the proper papers. Forms to do this are available through the clerk.

If the Department of Revenue is involved, your court order likely says direct payments such as these will be considered gifts for which no credit will be given. In non-DOR cases, usually you will get credit only if the parent owed the support agrees in writing to accept these in lieu of child support. If a dispute arises over the arrearage, it can be an accounting nightmare. It will be your burden to prove there was an agreement to have such payments credited toward child support. Without signed receipts or a written consent signed by the parent owed support, these payments may be considered gifts, and it may be difficult for you to prove otherwise in court.

Yes. By law when parents with whom the child resides for a majority of the time receive certain types of public assistance or welfare, they must cooperate with the Florida Department of Revenue to obtain child support from the other parent. In such cases the parents with whom the child resides for a majority of the time have no say in DOR’s decision to seek child support, and whether they like it or not, they are required to cooperate with the agency or forfeit benefits.

Yes. While there are some exceptions, as a general rule an informal arrangement modifying the time-sharing arrangement is not binding until both parties sign a written agreement confirming the change and a court order is entered approving the agreement. As the official nonresidential parent you remain obligated to pay support, with arrearage accruing, until the other parent signs an agreement consenting to the change, or you file a Supplemental Petition for Modification and ask for the court to change your status. Forms for this are available from the clerk or for free at www.flcourts.org.

Foreclosures

The Clerk of Court assigns foreclosure actions for more than $15,000 to the Circuit Civil Divisions A and C (Sarasota) and B and D (Manatee). Actions for less than $15,000 are assigned to County Court.

Judges are not allowed to talk directly with litigants, witnesses, friends, or family members of litigants about a pending case or a disputed matter that might lead to litigation. Ethical rules require judges to have both sides of a dispute present, with their lawyers, before he or she is permitted to discuss a matter in litigation or a matter which might be litigated.

Judicial Assistants are not lawyers and cannot give legal advice. By law they cannot recommend lawyers or advise a person on how to handle a case. They do not have the authority to approve requests to continue a matter or to excuse a court appearance, only a judge can do that. The claim that the “Judicial Assistant told me to do it” is not an acceptable defense.

If you are a tenant and your landlord is facing foreclosure, you will be served papers naming you as a defendant in the landlord’s case. You should pay close attention to the progress of that case. In Manatee and Sarasota Counties you can access the clerks’ case docket on line to check the status.  www.manateeclerk.com and  www.sarasotaclerk.com. If the landlord loses, your lease will be cancelled and you will be forced to leave the property. However, you have important rights. Visit the Florida Bar website for information on the rights and duties of tenants and landlords. 

You have the right to represent yourself. However, foreclosure law is complex. It is strongly recommended that you not attempt to do this without an attorney. You may have defenses to foreclosure that are unrecognizable by untrained persons. Being uninformed about civil procedure and the law may cause you to lose a case that you could otherwise win. Before deciding to be your own lawyer, it would be wise to consult with a member of The Florida Bar. Attorneys don’t have to be hired to defend the entire case. Some may agree to be hired for a limited purpose. This can greatly reduce the cost and allow an unrepresented party to have an attorney’s help at critical stages of the case. For example, a defendant may need the attorney just to file and argue a motion to dismiss, or a summary judgment, or to help them prepare for trial.

If you have no lawyer, you may find this website helpful:  http://www.selfhelpsupport.org

  1. Contact legal aid services to see if you qualify for free legal advice:
    • Legal Aid of Manasota  
      Sarasota Office - 1900 Main Street, Suite 302, Sarasota, Florida 34236 - (941) 366-0038
      Venice Office - 7810 South Tamiami Trail, Suite A6, Venice, Florida 34293 - (941) 492-4631
    • Gulfcoast Legal Services
      ​1750 17th Street, Bldg. 1, Sarasota, Florida 34236 - (941) 366-1746
  2. If you do not qualify for legal aid, many local lawyers have offered to assist homeowners at a reduced rate or on a sliding scale depending on income and assets. Vist the 12th Circuit’s Reduced Fee Attorney List.
  3. Many local attorneys advertise online and in the Yellow Pages. Be sure to ask about their experience in representing people in your situation. The local bar associations also have useful resources: sarasotabar.com; www.manateebar.com

The most common mistake made by persons who do not hire an attorney is the failure to pay attention to deadlines. The rules of civil procedure govern foreclosure cases and they set deadlines for a defending party to take action. For example, when the case is first filed, the person filing the case (plaintiff) is required to serve papers (a complaint), on all persons with a legal interest in the property (defendants).

Defendants have 20 days to file their legal defenses to the claims made in the complaint. These defenses are required to be stated in a document called an “answer,” and filed with the clerk of court, with copies sent to the plaintiff. What is a legitimate defense is controlled by legal principles, most of which are unknown to non-lawyers. If the deadline is missed, the plaintiff is entitled to win by default - meaning there is nothing to stop the foreclosure from going forward to final judgment. Because the defendant has chosen not to contest the case, the rules of procedure say that any defenses are automatically abandoned. The law requires the defending party to point out problems with the plaintiff’s case. It is not the judge’s job to do this. If the plaintiff’s case is flawed, but not defended, the flawed case will go to final judgment and the defendant will be bound by and have to live with this result. This is true even if there were legitimate defenses, which, if raised in an answer at the beginning of the case, would have allowed the defendant to win.

There are other deadlines that may have to be met too. When a case is defended, and either the rules of procedure or a judge’s order sets a deadline, missing the date can have serious consequences for a noncompliant defendant. Self-represented persons must become familiar with the procedural rules and pay careful attention to orders signed by the judge, or they act at their peril.

When deadlines are missed, sometimes it is possible for the defendant to ask the judge to excuse the oversight. But this is risky and depends on why the deadline was missed, and the judge may not accept the excuse. The sooner the request is made after a date is missed, the more likely it is that the judge may allow the error to be corrected. In any event, for the deadline to be excused, a valid legal reason for missing the deadline is required.

Notice of Hearing

Motion

Supporting document copies (a copy of your Motion or other filed pleadings that will be addressed at the hearing)

Legal Authority (e.g. case law supporting your position)

  1. You should first file a MOTION. A motion is a written request for the judge to take action in regard to your case. You must describe what it is you want the judge to do, and why.
  2. Make sure the motion contains the names of all parties, the case number, and that the certificate of service is completed showing when and how you provided the motion to all other parties. Like other papers filed in the case, the original motion is sent to the clerk of court. The Sarasota County’s Clerk of Court’s mailing address is 2000 Main Street, Sarasota, Florida, 34237. Manatee County’s Clerk of Court mailing address is 1115 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, FL 34205. Copies are mailed or faxed to the other parties.
  3. Contact the plaintiff’s attorney to coordinate a hearing date. You should have your calendar available when you contact the plaintiff’s attorney. Attorneys have access to the judges calendaring system and can schedule a mutually convenient date. 
  4. If attempts to coordinate a hearing with the plaintiff’s attorney fail, you may then contact the Judicial Assistant to request a hearing date. You should get at least two dates since these have to be coordinated with the opposing side. The assistant will tell you how much time the judge has available for that type of motion.
  5. Contact the other side to see if the dates provided are acceptable. If you do not do this, the judge may cancel the hearing because local rules require it. If, after you make a good faith effort, the opposition does not cooperate, send a letter to the judge, copy to the other parties, stating what you’ve done to get the hearing date coordinated. The judge may then set the hearing at a time convenient to the court.
  6. After you have the hearing date, you must prepare and send a NOTICE OF HEARING. Always provide a copy of court papers you file to the other side, even though everyone has agreed to the hearing date. The original notice of hearing is sent to the clerk of court. Copies are sent to the other parties.
  7. Before you appear at the hearing, you should rehearse your presentation and be concise. Remember, you only have half the time. The other side has to be given equal time.
  8. At the hearing, direct your remarks to the judge, not to the opposing attorney. For more information for self-represented parties, review the Ten Rules for Courtroom Conduct HERE.

Litigants requesting an emergency hearing are required first to call the judge’s office to alert the Judicial Assistant that an emergency motion is being filed and to request the FAX number. Then the moving party is required to FAX a copy of the motion or pleading to the judge. The request will not be considered until a written motion or pleading is received. The Judicial Assistant will present the documents to the judge at the first available opportunity. The judge will review the papers and will either grant, deny or schedule a hearing on an emergency calendar. IF A HEARING IS GRANTED AND A DATE SET, THE MOVANT IS REQUIRED TO GIVE NOTICE TO THE OPPOSING SIDE IN THE MANNER MOST LIKELY TO GIVE ACTUAL NOTICE, UNLESS NOTICE IS EXCUSED BY LAW. Failure to give timely notice to the other side may be grounds for denial of relief. Emergency hearings may be set before or after normal business hours, or during the time normally reserved for noon recess. ALWAYS INCLUDE THE CASE NUMBER ON WRITTEN COMMUNICATIONS TO A JUDGE WITH A RETURN ADDRESS & PHONE NUMBER. Case numbers are available from the clerk of court.

If you have an attorney, he or she must file a motion asking the judge for a continuance. Persons without an attorney may file their own motion, or write the judge a letter in advance requesting a continuance and giving the reasons. Requests may be faxed only when short notice, urgent or emergency situations exist. The original pleading must be filed with the clerk of circuit court. A copy of the request must be sent in writing to the opposing party. Failure to show a certificate of service for copies sent to the opposing party is grounds for denying the request on its face. There must be good cause, such as a verifiable emergency, for a continuance to be granted. Some judges may rule on a motion for continuance based solely on what the judge sees in the motion. Other judges may require the moving party to schedule, through the judge’s office, a hearing on the continuance request. If a hearing is granted, you should appear in person at the hearing when scheduled. If the motion to continue is denied and you fail to appear, there may be serious legal consequences. What you think is a good excuse may not be a legal one in the judge's opinion. ALWAYS INCLUDE THE CASE NUMBER ON WRITTEN COMMUNICATIONS TO A JUDGE WITH A RETURN ADDRESS & PHONE NUMBER. Case numbers are available from the clerk of court.

Litigants in CIVIL cases who want their proceedings recorded are responsible for hiring their own court reporters to attend hearings or trials. Private court reporters are listed in the yellow pages of the phone book. Most require non-lawyers to pay all or part of the anticipated expenses up front. It may be difficult to appeal an adverse ruling in a civil case unless you hire a private court reporter to attend the hearing or trial to prepare a certified transcript. The court is under no obligation to provide court reporters in civil cases even where the litigants are indigent

Sarasota residential mortgage foreclosure sales are held online at https://www.sarasota.realforeclose.com at 9:00 a.m.

Manatee residential mortgage foreclosure sales are held online at https://www.manatee.realforeclose.com at 9:00 a.m.

Visit the Clerk of Circuit Court Website of your county of interest. Manatee Clerk –  www.manateeclerk.com. Sarasota Clerk –  www.sarasotaclerk.com.

No. On February 9, 2009 the 12th Circuit adopted Administrative Order 2009-2.1 in re: Emergency Order Suspending Telephone Hearings in Foreclosure Cases in Sarasota and Manatee Counties.

Generally, there are three ways a case ends:

  1. It can be dismissed by the judge or by the party who filed the claim.
  2. The case can be resolved by a trial. At the trial the judge will decide who wins or loses. Foreclosure cases are tried by a judge without a jury. A trial requires the parties to call and question live witnesses and to present documents that support their claims or defenses.
  3. A case can end by a “summary judgment.” Summary here means “quick.” This is the way many foreclosure cases are resolved because it avoids the expense of a non-jury trial. Either side may file motions for summary judgment but most commonly it is the method plaintiffs use to try to bring the foreclosure case to a speedy conclusion. It is not like a trial because the judge makes the decision only after reviewing papers filed by the parties prior to the hearing. The papers that are filed must comply with strict legal rules. On occasion, the court may take live testimony at a summary judgment hearing.

    The party moving for summary judgment is required to file affidavits or other evidence that support the motion, and the defending parties, if they need to do so, may file affidavits or other evidence opposing the motion. Defending parties should not expect to appear at the plaintiff’s summary judgment hearing to explain their defenses without having filed proper evidence or affidavits supporting their position a reasonable time before the hearing. Only papers filed prior to the hearing and meeting legal standards can be considered by the judge.

    Summary judgment can only be granted when there are no disputed issues of material fact, and the sole issues remaining are legal ones. The law of summary judgment is complicated. Because it can result in an adverse judgment, self-represented parties would benefit by consulting with an attorney as soon as they receive a motion for summary judgment. The rules of civil procedure set forth the requirements for parties filing or opposing summary judgment. Visit  Florida Bar Rules of Civil Procedure to access the civil rules.

Complaint Filed

The complaint alleges one or more defaults occurred under the terms of the mortgage and promissory note. The goal of the complaint is to obtain a Final Judgment that will allow the court to legally transfer title to the property from the current owner to a new owner.

Defendants Served

This is typically done through a private process server but may be accomplished through the sheriff. If the borrowers cannot be located after a diligent search, and attempts to serve them personally have failed, the plaintiff is allowed to serve them by publication of a notice in a local newspaper.

Defendant files an Answer (or asks judge by a motion for a brief extension of time to answer) and/or files a Motion to Dismiss stating reasons why the plaintiff’s complaint is defective. 

If a Motion to Dismiss is filed, a hearing may be scheduled by either party at which time the judge or magistrate will rule on the motion. The judge or magistrate will enter a written order confirming his or her ruling. You may request hearings for your own motions. Judges may decide some motions without a hearing.

If the Motion to Dismiss is denied and an Answer has not yet been filed, the judge will order the Answer to be filed within a certain number of days, typically 10 or 20 days. If the defendant fails to file the Answer within the time set by the judge, defenses could be stricken and a default entered against the defendant. This could clear the way for the plaintiff to get a final judgment due to the defendant’s failure to comply with a court order. If the Motion to Dismiss is granted, plaintiff may be allowed to file an amended complaint, which can then be challenged by another Motion to Dismiss.

20 days after the Complaint is served on all defendants (if no answer is filed), or 20 days after the Answer has been filed, the case is ready to be set for trial. Either party may request a trial date or the Court may set one on its own.

Discovery Conducted

Parties have a reasonable time before trial to request disclosure of information and documents from their opponent. However, this has to be done in accordance with the rules of civil procedure. Examples of discovery devices commonly used are: Requests for Admissions (written questions the answers to which will bind the responding party), Interrogatories (written questions to be answered under oath), and depositions (witness testimony taken under oath before a court reporter which is recorded in a booklet called a transcript.) The rules of civil procedure set deadlines for parties to comply with discovery requests. Failure to timely comply can result in sanctions against the offending party, including attorney fees and cost. In extreme cases of non-compliance the judge may strike a defendant’s answer and defenses, enter defaults against the defendant and, the case of a plaintiff, dismiss the complaint.

Plaintiffs usually attempt to resolve the case by means of a motion for summary judgment. If the summary judgment is granted, the court will enter a Final Judgment. The circuit’s standard form of foreclosure judgment can be viewed here. The judgment will include the total amount owed and a date for the clerk to sell the property. If summary judgment is not granted, the plaintiff can try again to resolve the case by filing another summary judgment, or the case can be set for a trial without a summary judgment. See WHAT IS A SUMMARY JUDGMENT?

If ready for trial, a date will be scheduled by the judge. The judge may also order the parties to appear at pretrial conferences. If defendant fails to appear at a mandatory hearing or trial, the plaintiff may request a final judgment. For this reason, careful attention should be paid to reviewing orders containing hearing dates when received from the judge. If plaintiff fails to appear, the case may be dismissed. At trial plaintiff will be required to prove the case by witnesses and other evidence. Defendants also will have to prove their defenses at the same time.

If the plaintiff wins at trial or after a summary judgment hearing, the court will enter a Final Judgment. The Final Judgment will state the total amount owed and set the date for the property to be sold by the clerk.

After the clerk’s sale, defendant has 10 days to “redeem” the property. This means if the defendant can come up with the total money owed as stated in the final judgment within the 10 days, the sale can be reversed, the judgment vacated and the case dismissed. The money is paid to the clerk, not the plaintiff.

If no redemption occurs, the clerk will issue and record a new title transferring the property from the defendant owner to whoever was the successful bidder at the clerk’s sale.

Once the clerk issues the new title, the new owner is entitled to request a Writ of Possession, which is a paper directing the sheriff to remove all persons on the property and put the new owner in possession.

A sheriff’s deputy will give notice to occupants that the Writ of Possession requires them to leave, giving them a short time to remove their personal possessions. Thereafter, a deputy will visit the property. If the occupants have not vacated the premises, they will be ordered to leave immediately.