Family Law FAQ
Below are some frequently asked questions about family law, wills and estates, and bankruptcy. The information is excerpted from pamphlets provided by The Florida Bar.
FAMILY LAW – DIVORCE
The official term for divorce in Florida is dissolution of marriage.
WHERE DO I GET LEGAL HELP?
A good place to begin is with your own lawyer, if you have one. Your lawyer can give you a quick review of your legal rights and advise you how to proceed. If your lawyer does not handle divorce cases, you will be referred to an attorney who does.
If your family lawyer has been retained by your spouse, then this lawyer cannot represent you, too. In fact, if the lawyer has been your family lawyer there may be a conflict of interest and the lawyer cannot represent either of you. Do not attempt to consult with your spouse’s attorney to receive legal advice. It is unethical for an attorney to represent both sides in a divorce and to give legal advice to both husband and wife.
HOW DO I SELECT A LAWYER?
If you do not have a lawyer, a lawyer referral service, usually operated by a local bar association, can put you in touch with a lawyer who handles such cases. The lawyers associated with the lawyer referral service have agreed to charge a small fee for the first conference. For just a few dollars, you can discuss your rights and obligations and determine if you are proceeding in the right direction.
Many areas in Florida have lawyer referral services listed under “Attorney” or “Information and Referral Services” in the yellow pages of the telephone book. If you do not have a lawyer referral service in your city, The Florida Bar’s Statewide Lawyer Referral Service can locate a lawyer for you. You can call the statewide service, toll-free, at 1.800.342.8011 or you can view the Find a Lawyer section on the Florida Bar Family Law Section homepage.
In Florida, lawyers who specialize in family law can earn board certification if they meet certain criteria and pass a comprehensive test in this practice area. To maintain certification, a lawyer must take continuing legal education courses regularly.
If you are looking for an attorney to represent you in a divorce—or any other legal matter—the Florida Bar has developed another helpful consumer brochure, How To Find A Lawyer in Florida, which may be helpful. See the back of this booklet for instructions on ordering it and other consumer brochures.
WHAT ABOUT ATTORNEY FEES AND COSTS?
Divorce does not have to be expensive. The more complex your affairs and the more contested the issues, the more the dissolution will cost. At an initial meeting, your attorney should provide an estimate of the total cost of a dissolution based on the information you provide. To a large extent, the cost will depend on how contested the matter becomes.
One lawyer cannot represent both parties. Your lawyer will expect you to pay a fee and the costs of litigation in accordance with the agreement you make. Sometimes the court will order your spouse to pay part or all your fees and costs, but such awards are unpredictable and cannot be relied upon. You are primarily responsible for the payment of your legal fees.
In a divorce, it is illegal for an attorney to work on a contingency fee basis; that is, where the lawyer’s fee is based upon a percentage of the amount awarded to the client.