FAMILY LAW FORMS, COMMENTARY, AND INSTRUCTIONS GENERAL INFORMATION FOR SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS (12/10)
You should read this General Information thoroughly before taking any other steps to file your case or represent yourself in court. Most of this information is not repeated in the attached forms. This information should provide you with an overview of the court system, its participants, and its processes. It should be useful whether you want to represent yourself in a pending matter or have a better understanding of the way family court works. This is not intended as a substitute for legal advice from an attorney. Each case has its own particular set of circumstances, and an attorney may advise you of what is best for you in your individual situation."
These instructions are not the only place that you can get information about how a family case works. You may want to look at other books for more help. The Florida Statutes, Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure, Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, and other legal information or books may be found at the public library or in a law library at your county courthouse or a law school in your area. If you are filing a petition for Name Change and/or Adoption, these instructions may not apply."
If the word(s) is printed in bold, this means that the word is being emphasized. Throughout these instructions, you will also find words printed in bold and underlined. This means that the definitions of these words may be found in the glossary of common family law terms at the end of this general information section.
1995 Adoption. To help the many people in family law court cases who do not have attorneys to represent them (pro se litigants), the Florida Supreme Court added these simplified forms and directions to the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure. The directions refer to the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure or the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. Many of the forms were adapted from the forms accompanying the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. Practitioners should refer to the committee notes for those forms for rule history.
The forms were adopted by the Court pursuant to Family Law Rules of Procedure, 667 So.2d 202 (Fla. 1995); In re Petition for Approval of Forms Pursuant to Rule 10-1.1(b) of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar-Stepparent Adoption Forms, 613 So. 2d 900 (Fla. 1992); Rules Regulating the Florida Bar-Approval of Forms, 581 So. 2d 902 (Fla. 1991).
Although the forms are part of these rules, they are not all inclusive and additional forms, as necessary, should be taken from the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure as provided in Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure. Also, the following notice has been included to strongly encourage individuals to seek the advice, when needed, of an attorney who is a member in good standing of the Florida Bar.
1997 Amendment. In 1997, the Florida Family Law Forms were completely revised to simplify and correct the forms. Additionally, the appendices were eliminated, the instructions contained in the appendices were incorporated into the forms, and the introduction following the Notice to Parties was created. Minor changes were also made to the Notice to Parties set forth below.
NOTICE TO PARTIES WHO ARE NOT REPRESENTED BY AN ATTORNEY WHO IS A MEMBER IN GOOD STANDING OF THE FLORIDA BAR
If you have questions or concerns about these forms, instructions, commentary, the use of the forms, or your legal rights, it is strongly recommended that you talk to an attorney. If you do not know an attorney, you should call the lawyer referral service listed in the yellow pages of the telephone book under "Attorney." If you do not have the money to hire an attorney, you should call the legal aid office in your area."
Because the law does change, the forms and information about them may have become outdated. You should be aware that changes may have taken place in the law or court rules that would affect the accuracy of the forms or instructions.
In no event will the Florida Supreme Court, The Florida Bar, or anyone contributing to the production of these forms or instructions be liable for any direct, indirect, or consequential damages resulting from their use.
FAMILY LAW PROCEDURES
Communication with the court Ex parte communication is communication with the judge with only one party present. Judges are not allowed to engage in ex parte communication except in very limited circumstances, so, absent specific authorization to the contrary, you should not try to speak with or write to the judge in your case unless the other party is present or has been properly notified. If you have something you need to tell the judge, you must ask for a hearing and give notice to the other party or file a written statement in the court file and send a copy of the written statement to the other party."
Filing a case. A case begins with the filing of a petition. A petition is a written request to the court for some type of legal action. The person who originally asks for legal action is called the petitioner and remains the petitioner throughout the case."
A petition is given to the clerk of the circuit court, whose office is usually located in the county courthouse or a branch of the county courthouse. A case number is assigned and an official court file is opened. Delivering the petition to the clerk's office is called filing a case. A filing fee is usually required.
Once a case has been filed, a copy must be given to (served on) the respondent. The person against whom the original legal action is being requested is called the respondent, because he or she is expected to respond to the petition. The respondent remains the respondent throughout the case."
Service. When one party files a petition, motion, or other pleading, the other party must be "served" with a copy of the document. This means that the other party is given proper notice of the pending action(s) and any scheduled hearings. Personal service of the petition and summons on the respondent by a deputy sheriff or private process server is required in all original petitions and supplemental petitions, unless constructive service is permitted by law. Personal service may also be required in other actions by some judges. After initial service of the original or supplemental petition and summons by a deputy sheriff or private process server, service of most motions and other documents or papers filed in the case generally may be made by regular U.S. mail or hand delivery. However, service by certified mail is required at other times so you have proof that the other party actually received the papers. The instructions with each form will advise you of the type of service required for that form. If the other party is represented by an attorney, you should serve the attorney and send a copy to the other party, except for original or supplemental petitions, which must be personally served on the respondent."
Other than the initial original or supplemental petitions, anytime you file additional pleadings or motions in your case, you must provide a copy to the other party and include a certificate of service. Likewise, the other party must provide you with copies of everything that he or she files. Service of additional documents is usually completed by U.S. mail. For more information, see the instructions for Certificate of Service (General), Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.914."
Forms for service of process are included in the Florida Family Law Forms, along with more detailed instructions and information regarding service. The instructions to those forms should be read carefully to ensure that you have the other party properly served. If proper service is not obtained, the court cannot hear your case."
Note:If you absolutely do not know where the other party to your case lives or if the other party resides in another state, you may be able to use constructive service. However, if constructive service is used, other than granting a divorce, the court may only grant limited relief. For more information on constructive service, see Notice of Action for Dissolution of Marriage, Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.913(a), and Affidavit of Diligent Search and Inquiry, Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure Form 12.913(b). Additionally, if the other party is in the military service of the United States, additional steps for service may be required. See, for example, Memorandum for Certificate of Military Service, Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.912(a). In sum, the law regarding constructive service and service on an individual in the military service is very complex and you may wish to consult an attorney regarding these issues."
Default... After being served with a petition or counter-petition, the other party has 20 days to file a response. If a response to a petition is not filed, the petitioner may file a Motion for Default, Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.922(a), with the clerk. This means that you may proceed with your case and set a final hearing, and a judge will make a decision, even if the other party will not cooperate. For more information, see rule 12.080(c), Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure."
Answer and Counter petition... After being served, the respondent has 20 days to file an answer admitting or denying each of the allegations contained in the petition. In addition to an answer, the respondent may also file a counter-petition. In a counter-petition, the respondent may request the same or some other relief or action not requested by the petitioner. If the respondent files a counter-petition, the petitioner should then file an Answer to Counter-petition, Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.903(d), and either admit or deny the allegations in the respondent's counter-petition."
Mandatory disclosure... Rule 12.285, Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure, requires each party in a dissolution of marriage to exchange certain information and documents, and file a Family Law Financial Affidavit, Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure Form 12.902(b) or (c). Failure to make this required disclosure within the time required by the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure may allow the court to dismiss the case or to refuse to consider the pleadings of the party failing to comply. This requirement also must be met in other family law cases, except adoptions, simplified dissolutions of marriage, enforcement proceedings, contempt proceedings, and proceedings for injunctions for domestic or repeat violence. The Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure, Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure Form 12.932, lists the documents that must be given to the other party. For more information see rule 12.285, Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure, and the instructions to the Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure, Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure Form 12.932."
Parenting Plan. If your case involves minor or dependent child(ren), a Parenting Plan shall be approved or established by the court. Parenting Plan, Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form, 12.995(a) or Safety-Focused Parenting Plan, Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.995(b). The Parenting Plan shall be developed and agreed to by the parents and approved by a court . If the parents cannot agree, or if the agreed Parenting Plan is not approved, the court must establish a Parenting Plan . The Parenting Plan shall contain a time-sharing schedule and should address the issues regarding the child(ren)'s education, healthcare, and physical, social, and emotional well-being."
Setting a hearing or trial. Generally, the court will have hearings on motions, final hearings on uncontested or default cases, and trials on contested cases. Before setting your case for final hearing or trial, certain requirements such as completing mandatory disclosure and filing certain papers and having them served on the other party must be met. These requirements vary depending on the type of case and the procedures in your particular jurisdiction. For further information, you should refer to the instructions for the type of form you are filing."
Next, you must obtain a hearing or trial date so that the court may consider your request. You should ask the clerk of court, or family law intake staff about the local procedure for setting a hearing or trial, which you should attend. These family law forms contain orders and final judgments, which the judge may use. You should ask the clerk of court or family law intake staff if you need to bring one of these forms with you to the hearing or trial. If so, you should type or print the heading, including the circuit, county, case number, division, and the parties' names, and leave the rest blank for the judge to complete at your hearing or trial."