“I have filed for a divorce of my husband. He doesn’t want the divorce, and has not hired an attorney. He is doing everything possible to prolong things. What are my options?”
This is a fairly typical concern in cases where one party is represented by counsel and the other is pro se. A pro se litigant’s refusal to cooperate in the divorce action can have serious ramifications, both financial and otherwise. For example, in some circuits, you cannot proceed on a temporary relief hearing until you have gone to a temporary mediation. If the pro se litigant is universally uncooperative, you are looking at potential delays in discovery, setting mediation, and setting a temporary relief hearing. If you are in need of temporary relief and are struggling to make ends meet in the short term, you may struggle mightily while you are forced to continuously seek Court intervention just to move the case forward.
What if the pro se litigant is denying visitation to the children? You no doubt miss the children, the children don’t understand what is going on, your relationship with the children is being damaged and, all the while, you feel like you are being punished while you are the one complying with mandatory discovery and other deadlines.
For more attorneys in this situation, the options are fairly limited. Many choose to barrel through with a series of motions to compel, and attempt to reassure their client that they might, at some distance time in the future, recoup attorney’s fees and costs based on the pro se litigant’s behavior. Unfortunately, that process is slow and costly and the prospect of future fees and costs provides little comfort to someone experiencing a present financial or psychological hurt.
A more proactive approach might be a better solution for you and your family. Rather than wait for the pro se litigant to miss deadlines and then reacting, think about what needs to be done to expedite the case to mediation and/or trial and consider what delays are likely to occur if the pro se litigant does not cooperate. Then, your attorney can take advantage of whatever options the Court has for case management.
For example, in Florida, a party can request a case management conference at any time after 30 days from the service of a petition or complaint (Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12. 200). At a case management conference, the Court has the authority to expedite discovery, order counseling, refer the parties to mediation, appoint experts if needed, and to take a host of other actions intended to streamline the action to resolution. More often than not, the Court will be more than happy to assist. By taking advantage of this feature, your attorney will be able to limit delays and hopefully assure that important issues, such as temporary support and visitation, are addressed in short order.
On an interesting note, in the Court in Florida can convene a case management conference on its own initiative, at any time, without the 30-day restriction. There has been talk amongst some of the more proactive judges in our circuit of making case management conferences routine in all new cases, with the conference being set for no more than a day or two after responsive pleadings would be due (20 days in Florida). While this has yet to be put into practice, it seems logical that such a procedure would alleviate a number of the problems associated with a pro se litigant who isn’t willing to proceed with the dissolution.
Brent Rainey is an associate attorney with the marital and family law firm of West, Green & Associate, P.L. in Orlando.