Pitfalls To Representing Yourself in Divorce or Child Custody Cases

Most Jacksonville, Florida residents thinking of filing their own divorce haven’t heard the phrase, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Unfortunately the court system is complicated, but it’s complicated because our lives are complicated. Some people say that their divorce is a “simple” one, some attorney’s say that there’s no such thing as a “simple divorce”. Just as I don’t dare to do simple mechanic work such as an oil change because I’m not a mechanic, a non-lawyer has to remember that a case that might be considered simple by an attorney isn’t necessarily simple for them.

There are complex pleadings that are required to make a divorce judgment final. Just because it says “Final” in the title doesn’t make it so. You can’t depend on a judge to tell you if you’ve made a mistake either, they’re not allowed to give you legal advice and are often so busy with their heavy case loads that they’ll sign almost anything you agree to.

A recent case I saw was that of a woman who had become pregnant from an adulterous affair while living with her husband. Under Florida law, the only people who have the right to contest the parentage of a baby born during a marriage while the couple is cohabitation is the wife and husband. This is because Florida values the interest of preserving the marriage above the rights of unmarried fornicators to raise their own children.

In my case, the husband allowed himself to be named on the birth certificate but a year later when they divorced, he had a DNA test done and submitted it to the court so that the former-wife could execute a name change for her son. The court denied the name change as they hadn’t done their pleading correctly. What the former-husband didn’t realize is that by providing a DNA test showing that he was not the father he started the clock on his ability to disestablish his paternity. He failed to bring an action to disestablish his paternity within one year of submitting that DNA test and is now the legal father of that child, liable for child support etc., until the child becomes an adult. By trying to save money and taking matters into his own hands, he instead made himself liable for child support (a debt not discharged in a bankruptcy) for eighteen years.

If you or a friend are attempting to take legal matters into their own hands, you should know the risks. Contact a Jacksonville Divorce Attorney or call us at (904) 685-1200 for a free initial consultation.

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