Persons who choose to represent themselves in court are referred to as pro se litigants. The following information is for persons who wish to represent themselves in family law matters in Manatee, Sarasota, or Desoto counties.  These include cases such as divorce, paternity, child support, parental responsibility and time-sharing. The Self-Help program can also assist with processing requests for change of names and adoptions.

Cases are started by a person filing a petition or motion with the clerk of court. Persons who are defending a case must file their response with the same clerk of court. Failure to do so after being served papers or after being notified of a hearing can result in the other side getting what he or she wants by default.

Because a mistake made in a family law case can have serious consequences, pro se litigants are encouraged to consult with a member of The Florida Bar before deciding to represent themselves in a family law case.

From the beginning it is important for pro se litigants to understand that the staff of the Self-Help Program are not lawyers. By order of the Florida Supreme Court they are not allowed to give legal advice. Please do not ask them to do so. They are not allowed to fill out forms. Litigants must decide for themselves what forms to file. Most family law forms can be found on Pro Se Forms Page, are available in packets at the Clerk's Office, or available on-line, printed and downloaded for free at the Supreme Court’s website. They include forms for persons DEFENDING a family law case as well as forms for persons starting such a case.

Once the litigant selects and completes the proper forms, they are filed with the CLERK OF COURT (addresses below).  The original of all petitions, pleadings, or motions are always filed with the CLERK. They should not be sent to the Self-Help Office.

The clerks of court in Sarasota, Manatee, and Desoto Counties for a fee also can provide litigants with packages of the Supreme Court forms. In addition, the clerk's office and this website have many Circuit Approved Forms that address many of the common issues that arise in family law cases.

Effective July 1, 2004, important changes occurred regarding Self-Help office operations. Due to heavy demand and reduced funding, the staff will not be able to meet with pro se litigants in person. Litigants who wish to receive Self-Help services must contact the program by mailing a Self Help Referral Form called a Family Form A. The program can not assist unless these instructions are followed.

After a Family Form A is completed, it must be mailed to the Clerk's office located in the county where the case is to be filed (addresses below). A response will normally occur within 15 business days. The Self-Help office will not know about your case until you file a Form A.

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 Pro Se Forms Page in the Respondent's section or at the Clerk of Court. If your case involves Child Support Enforcement, and you would like to request a hearing after filing a proper motion, you must file a Form C.

What the Self Help Office Will Do

Litigants’ files will be reviewed. If the wrong form is used or important information or papers are missing the litigant will be notified.  Failure to correct the papers or provide the missing information may result in dismissal of the case.

Case managers work directly with the judges. They will inform litigants when a hearing or trial has been scheduled. However, the 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.

Replying to Family Form A usually by mail, case managers will communicate with litigants concerning the status of their case. Communications with the case managers are public record. Nothing discussed with a case manager is confidential or “off the record.”

Case managers will explain the court system, provide directions to the correct courtroom, and answer general questions about how a case progresses. However, case managers are not lawyers and are not allowed to give legal advice.

Case managers can coordinate the referral of cases to mediation, an informal, inexpensive process of dispute resolution that can lead to agreements without trial.

Case managers can refer litigants to other community services and programs that may provide support or assistance to parties involved in family law cases.

File All Original Court Papers and Forms A & C with the Clerk of Court

Desoto County Clerk of Court
115 East Oak Street, Room 101
Arcadia, FL 34266
(863) 993-4876

Manatee County Clerk of Court
1115 Manatee Avenue West
P.O. Box 25400
Bradenton, FL 34206
(941) 749-1800

Sarasota County (North) Clerk of Court
2000 Main Street
Sarasota, FL 34237
(941) 861-7400

Sarasota County (South) Clerk of Court
4004 S. Tamiami Trail
Venice, FL 34293
(941) 861-7400